COVID and campus antisemitism: A ‘can do’ response

COVID and campus antisemitism: A ‘can do’ response

AUJS Shavuot event in NSW.
AUJS Shavuot event in NSW.

In all of the chaos and turbulence of the past 18 months, we have seen a ground- swell of youth leadership that is inspiring and resilient. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) is just one of many youth organisations that have pivoted and transformed the way we engage young people.

My leadership journey at AUJS began with the Millie Phillips Leadership Training Summit, where I met leaders from around Australasia. We learned from each other’s experiences and set a course for an excellent 2020 as a united team. Of course, things didn’t exactly go as planned.

We have had to cancel events due to COVID outbreaks, resign international programming to the imagination of young Jewry, and faced the inability to travel domestically (our national team hasn’t been able to meet in person for the past two years). The turbulence of this time has only been compounded by the antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric on campus and online. Albeit all of these challenges have been met with a “can do attitude”, leading young communal leaders to reimagine Jewish life in the most chaotic of circumstances.

To respond to the antisemitism and anti-Zionism we are facing, AUJS launched Accelerate, a two-day conference which provides a platform for young leaders to engage with Israel and their Jewish identity. The program is designed to give participants the knowledge, skills and confidence to combat antisemitism on campus through constructive dialogue about Israel and the issues which face our community.

In true COVID style, once we returned to lockdown, the conference was pivoted into two tremendous Zoom sessions with political experts and a panel of student leaders from across the world. Moreover AUJS’ student leadership has addressed antisemitism on campuses across Australia and New Zealand, whether in meetings with university administrators or with local and federal politicians.

AUJS has empowered students to use their voices to create change. By opening conversations on Zoom and in person to discuss feelings and steps forward for our community, and by using social media to inform and to make room for peace, AUJS is fostering Jewish resilience and paving the way for a better future for students.

Our community faces many structural and long-term challenges, from growing antisemitism to rising Jewish day school fees, to an ageing population and generational renewal in our communal organisations. AUJS is inspiring resilient students to become leaders who can take on these challenges, have the courage of their convictions, and articulate the type of vision that will guide our community through volatile times. To prepare for whatever challenges the future presents we must significantly invest in our youth organisations.

AUJS has provided me with many opportunities. At the AUJS Political Training Seminar 2019 in Canberra, I was able to engage with high profile speakers including the Prime Minister. Programs like these engage young people with opportunities to make their voices heard and understand what potential avenues they may have for their future. Other fond memories include attending the AUJS annual Purim party bringing together young Jewish students.

One of the best opportunities I have been given is to become an AUJS leader. In my role, I have been able to bring new programs to life, inspire other students, and work with a great team to support Jewish students on campus. Many of us ask ourselves what we can do to help with the challenges that Jewish students face and provide them with opportunities for growth. AUJS is the place where I found a way to do just that, following in the footsteps of many other leaders before me.

AUJS will continue to build the com- munity for our youth by upskilling and enabling students to engage with their Judaism and Zionism. We will continue to advocate for our students to be proud Jews and Zionists. We will continue to support both the Jewish and wider com- munity, by strengthening our coalition of non-Jewish students and politicians. We will make space for important conversations that impact our students. AUJS will continue to evolve to ensure that we are still present, just like we have been doing since 1948.

Andy Gordon is the AUJS fundraising coordinator for 2021.

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