Jewish students’ Web home makes Europe smaller

PARIS, Nov. 22 (JTA) — Inviting students from 32 European countries to take a “daily online kosher coffee break” for Jewish identity and unity, a sleek new Web site hopes the continent’s Jewish youth movements will come out of their shells.

The site, the brainchild of the European Union of Jewish Students, has all the latest technology, with chat rooms, videos, classified ads and even offers all those who register free e-mail. The site was launched a few months ago at www.eujs.org.

Now it just needs students.

“We wanted to find a way to get as many people involved as we could across Europe, so we came up with the Web site as a way to reach everyone,” said Joelle Fiss, 24, the full-time chair of the group, who is based in Brussels.

“We think it is a way for people to integrate Judaism in their daily lives. They can post their opinions, have their own e-mail for their Jewish contacts, and keep in touch with the people they meet across Europe.”

There are approximately 170,000 Jewish students across Europe, and each nation has its own student group. Students gather once per year at a conference to jam all the learning, organizing and friendship building they can in a few days.

Yet after such gatherings, students go their separate ways and tend to lose the contacts they made, Fiss said. Moreover, many complained that their local Jewish student groups have become a bit stale, mostly offering the same old pizza parties and karaoke each month.

EUJS, founded in 1978, sponsors conferences across Europe and also successfully passed a resolution at the European Youth Forum condemning the recent wave of anti-Semitic violence that spread in Europe since battles erupted in Israel and the Palestinian territories last month.

EUJS is hoping students will use the site to continue the conversations they begin at meetings and fetes that go on across Europe.

That was the way the site got started. According to the Web site, “after having experienced a week of stormy debates and outrageous cocktails,” Jewish students in Amsterdam dreamed up the site so they could continue to build on the excitement of their meeting.

The site definitely has a hip touch to it, with a glowing yellow background and a polished but welcoming feel. “Whether you prefer chatting in Danish to a Polish vodka-sipper in Geneva, or joking in German over a British tea in Rome, you have reached the place where minds are connecting by the second,” it reads.

Fiss, herself half-British and half-Swiss, remarked that the vibrancy of the site is certainly intentional. “I think that Jewish life can be sexy,” she said. “We want it to be a lot of fun. We think you can have fun and learn at the same time.”

While the site is entirely in English, webmaster Benjamin Van Gelder, a 22-year-old Amsterdam resident, says he hopes there will be some Russian-language content and that conversations or messages are welcome in any language.

Van Gelder hopes particularly that the site will catch on with students in smaller and more isolated countries like Bulgaria and Croatia that rarely have the chance to meet other Jewish students.

“When I was in Hungary last year for the annual student conference, I was amazed to meet so many people from countries with small Jewish populations. I think we often underestimate them. A lot of them have e-mail and use it regularly, so this is perfect for them.”

So far, the site seems to be doing the right things to pique interest, students say. Marina Haddad, 21, a student from Versailles, France, said that since “young people use more and more the Internet, it is a great way to get their attention.

“I went to England a year ago and tried to look up information on the Internet about the Jewish community. I think the site will encourage students to travel more and meet Jewish people in different countries,” she added.

Fiss and her international staff of volunteers will keep the site fresh and are hoping that students across the world will spread the word about the project.

“We’ve sort of opened Pandora’s box,” Fiss said. “The baby is born, and over the years it will grow like a human being.”

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