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Talking Israel and Suntanning: European Jewish Students Meet

September 1, 2006
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Discussing anti-Semitism, learning how to support Israel and flirting by the pool aren’t usually thought of in the same breath. But all three activities were on the agenda when some 500 young Jews from across Europe gathered in Barcelona from Aug. 20-27 for the European Union of Jewish Students’ Summer University.

Participants at “Move to a new Jewish rhythm,” the title of this year’s event, reflected upon EUJS’ goals and accomplishments while enjoying a week in Spain.

“Maybe the most fun part is that none of us are professionals,” said Olga Israel, EUJS’ president. “They’re all young people. The point of EUJS is young people for young people. We have staff members at the office working full time but we have no adults, no one who is older than 30 doing this.”

Recently granted consultative status at the United Nations, EUJS is an umbrella organization that aims to provide a political voice to Jewish students throughout Europe.

Workshops at Summer University 2006 dealt with Israel, the threat of global jihad, terrorism, Sephardi culture in Europe, modern Jewish identity, interreligious dialogue and student activism, to name just a few.

A major project presented at the conference, “Shared Memories — Collective Action,” looked at genocide prevention and Holocaust education.

In conjunction with the World Jewish Congress’ Department of Future Generations, a delegation was sent to Rwanda in April consisting of Jewish students from EUJS and Rwandan students living in Belgium, most of whom were direct survivors of the 1994 genocide.

Many of the Summer University seminars and keynote addresses dealt with global terrorism and the crisis in the Middle East.

Israel, the group’s president, recently took part in a EUJS solidarity mission to the Jewish state, organized by the European Jewish Congress at the beginning of July.

“I returned to Europe with images of abandoned streets, sirens and visits to hospitals. So I came back and decided that the European students need to raise their voices,” she said. “We had an emergency board meeting and we decided to launch a campaign in support of Israel.”

EUJS’ Web site recently was hacked and shut down by an anti-Israel group, which EUJS leaders believe may have been a result of the group’s campaign in support of the Jewish state.

“Nothing like that has happened to EUJS in the past and it’s too much of a coincidence that two weeks following our campaign there was a very Israel-related message” — a burning Israeli flag placed on the group’s Web site, Israel said.

When participants at the Summer University weren’t at workshops debating the difficult state of the world, lounging by the pool seemed to be a favorite pastime.

“This is a week where so many Jewish students from around Europe and the world come together and it’s a time for them to socialize, so we put a big emphasis on the fun part of the event and we invest a lot in it,” Israel said. “There are pool parties every night, concerts, etc. We are giving them the time and the place to make friends and create networks that they will build on throughout the year.”

Uri Benguigui, president of the newly formed Catalonian Union of Jewish Students, said a “hidden aim” of the weeklong gathering was to prevent assimilation by helping young European Jews meet and, perhaps, form couples.

“The problem is that when you start to attend many activities in your own community, you finally get fed up with the same events and seeing the same faces all the time,” he said. “The objective is to have a very good time — and why not try to meet someone?”

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