What is a Jewish student union?
- An association of Jews? No, because some unions have non-Jewish members.
- An association about purely Jewish affairs? No, because many unions are often involved in the larger student and political scene by choice and sometimes by necessity.
- A cultural group? No, because unions also have social and educational events.
- A social club? No, because unions also have educational and cultural events.
What is a Jewish student union then? With well over 1000 institutions of higher education worldwide which are known to have Jewish students, this is a difficult question to answer.
Each Jewish student union has a different character; some are umbrella organizations encompassing local societies at many different universities; while some may only have activities at one institution. Union meetings can be held daily, weekly, monthly, termly or (at some colleges due to lack of members) never. Defining what a Jewish student union is and does can be nigh-on impossible. However, a very broad definition might be: A membership organization which represents and defends all Jewish students in a given country/region and may provide a social and cultural basis for the promotion of a greater understanding of the Jewish religion, history, culture and people, and sometimes of Zionism and Israel.
This definition describes what exists and also provides a reason why every country with a Jewish student population should have a Jewish student union. A Jewish student union can be, and is, whatever its members want it to be – a vital ingredient for any successful group.
And there is a need for such groups. Judaism is a way of life which has existed for three and a half thousand years, but Jews today no less about it than at any time in our history. Any group which, whatever its activities, encourages a special or general awareness about these long-lasting traditions has to be a good thing. And Jewish students on every campus need help in staying in touch with their roots.
There is the additional factor that being part of a Jewish student union is a huge amount of fun. This important side is often neglected. Though he/she often moans about the huge quantity of work involved, the one who enjoys the union most is the union chairperson or president. The members who simply go along to meetings miss out on the excitement of putting the event together and then enjoying it.
“Being involved” is a standard cliché that we hear on campus and those who do become “involved” have a new world open to them. Getting involved may sound like hard work, but as in anything we do, the more we put in the more we get out of it – and this as true in the JSU context as in any other.
As was said earlier, each union has its own unique character. The members decide the union’s structure and operation, meaning that each group finds its own reasons for existing. Once you as an individual decide that you want to increase your involvement and activity, you will easily find a way to do so. Whether this consists of starting a union or helping an existing one will be determined by the individual specifications which make you and your campus unique.
In doing this work, you’ll find many people whose sole purpose in life – or so it may appear – is to help you! The strange people we’re talking about are those who work from the WUJS office in Israel and our senior activists all over the world. The office and the WUJS structure exist to help you directly in running dynamic, exciting, educational and fun activities either on a local, regional, national or international basis.
As was said, WUJS exists to help you: no-one else! We’ll support your union, be it in France, Australia, Russia or Guatemala. We might even come and visit you to support you on the ground!
With all this help, the actual activism becomes easy. The hard part is deciding to become an activist. If you are already one of these people, you will know that this difficult decision brings its own rewards. It won’t be long before you are explaining to us what your union is and why it is important you should have one!
If you want to start a union or get involved with an existing one, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.