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Focus on Issues Jewish Students in South America

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The Zionist movement is guilty of the sin of neglect towards the Jews in South America, the head of the World Zionist Organization’s student division told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency following his one-month trip to the region. “We are totally avoiding a world which desperately needs our help.”

Dror Zeigerman, head of the 10-month-old student division, contends that some 70,000 Jewish students in South America constitute Israel’s best market for aliya in the college-age group — if they can only be reached. “The money and the power are in the U.S…… But it’s time we looked southward,” says Zeigerman. “Jewish youth in South America is in a state of social and spiritual deprivation. The Zionist movement and the Jewish community are one of the few places in which he can freely express himself.”

Following an extended visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia, Zeigerman is convinced of the need for an organized call for aliya there. The regimes, he says, prevent the youth from thinking and the campuses are physically decentralized so as to prevent social activities. “Just in that light alone, Israel has much to offer the South American Jewish student,” he says, adding that the new college-age generation would readily respond to a call of aliya — if the call ### mode.

As it stands now, efforts directed by the WZO at the South American continent are poorly organized. “We have to stop thinking and speaking English,” contends Zeigerman, pointing to the surplus of written material on Zionism which goes unused in South America simply because it is written in the wrong language. The same situation applies to outdated visual material, which is cast aside due to its lack of relevance.

PROBLEM IS GENERAL

The problem, however, says Zeigerman, does not pertain only to South America, where it is felt most strongly, but to the WZO’s approach to students everywhere.

“The WZO has largely overlooked the student in its aliya efforts for a number of reasons,” observes Zeigerman. “First, it is difficult to locate and organize students. Second, on an ideological level, all activities of the Zionist movement seem to stop at high school graduation. Third, a whole series of objective difficulties, such as the rise of the left and the Vietnam War, have prevented a more efficient link with Jewish students throughout the world. The Zionist movement just couldn’t compete on the campuses with these movements.”

Now, he contends, Zionism can attract students — both because competition has died down and because of the contemporary search for roots. “Jews are returning to their Judaism,” he says. Also, the situation has somewhat improved with the creation of the WZO student division. Until this year. Jewish students were taken care of by the youth and hechalutz department where, he contends, they were severely overlooked.

“In 1978, students were allocated only $400,000, three percent of the department’s $10 million annual budget,” Zeigerman notes. Now, with the creation of the separate student division, some $1 million has been allocated. “It’s still only 10 percent of youth and hechalutz, but it’s a definite improvement over the previous situation.” With the proper assistance, Zeigerman envisions a situation in which Zionist nuclei could be established on campuses throughout the world and up to 100 students on each campus would be responsible for involving others in Issues relevant to Israel. “If we can get students Involved in the fight against the PLO, against anti-Semitism, in support of Soviet Jewry, then it’s only a small step to magnifying their interest in Israel and aliya,” Zeigerman observes.

He also wants to establish aliya groups on the campuses and increase Jewish student participation in educational programs in Israeli universities. “This year, we have 2000 students enrolled here from the U.S. and another 2500 from South America. As for as the student is concerned, this is the real key to bringing him closer to Zionism,” he says.

Zeigerman does not expect his division to “conquer the student world,” but he expects if to work efficiently with small numbers of students who would in turn build wider Zionist action circles around themselves. If we have an active core, things will roll from there by themselves.”

The division head urges that steps be taken quickly: “The situation is more serious than most people realize. Who will provide the Jewish nation with quality leadership in another 10-15 years? As it stands now, there is no coming generation in the Zionist movement….Things have to be altered now.”

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