I, like most students, spent my entire college career looking forward to my graduation ceremony, but, unlike most, I made the decision to skip it.
I chose to attend the World Jewish Congress’ Diplomacy Summit in Europe, an experience I had been looking forward to for two years. The summit was an intense five-day trip that included visits to the highest legislative, diplomatic, and security institutions in Europe. I, along with 39 other Ronald S. Lauder Fellows representing 19 countries, had the privilege of meeting with high-ranking diplomats and Jewish leaders to talk about the world’s most pressing issues.
My fellowship with WJC started amidst the global COVID pandemic. Given the challenges that came along with that crisis, my cohort was told that the fellowship would be different from what it was supposed to be, and that we would have to adapt to the “new normal.” That meant no in-person meetings and that all of our interactions would migrate to Zoom. This necessitated the cancelation of all programs that were to be held on campuses d,
Surprisingly, the “new normal” turned out to be better than I had expected. We Fellows pushed ourselves to get to know one another and posed by our unusual situation.With support from WJC and tips from fellow students, my innovative online projects for interfaith dialogue were able to become a reality. What helped rally us together was a shared goal: to support Jewish life around the world and to work on projects that would bring innovation to WJC’s vision.
One of the most valuable things I gained from the summit was meeting and forming friendships with young leaders from all over the world. Though we had different opinions and political views and came from very diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, we all felt a duty to carry out the diplomatic mission of the summit, which made it unique. In meeting with our partners at the EU, European Commission, and other organizations known for being at odds with the global Jewish community, we learned what true diplomacy means. Even though one may disagree with their allies and partners in the world, it is crucial that a back-and-forth dialogue continue. We discussed difficult topics with the speakers, with a focus on the most pressing issues for world Jewry.
During our meeting with the UNESCO office on Global Citizenship education, one of the fellows raised a question about education in Afghanistan. Though on the surface this would seem to be a simple part of a Q & A session, I saw something entirely different. I saw a young Jewish leader asking UNESCO about an education crisis in a country, that has a history of antisemitism, and whether it was doing anything to help.
It was refreshing to see that our group of Jewish leaders not only advocated for “Jewish issues” at UNESCO, but also about important international ones, which on the surface don’t seem to directly affect our community. On the flipside, it was reassuring and validating to see non-Jews implementing the EU action plan to combat antisemitism. It is through our shared understanding of our common humanity that we can begin to combat antisemitism and all forms of bigotry.
This theme of global cooperation was highlighted repeatedly throughout the Summit. We are all interconnected. This, to me, is real diplomacy.
My experience in diplomacy before the summit enabled me to work closely with Muslim communities from around the world. I currently run two youth organizations, each with a different Muslim partners: one is a colleague from Malaysia, and the other is a former UN Youth Delegate of Afghanistan. For me, this work goes beyond a one year fellowship or five-day summit. It is my personal mission represent Jewish life in my partnerships with Muslim leaders. As I continue the work of bringing people together and advocating for peace, I keep in mind some wise words I have heard around the WJC office: “We cannot hate someone we know.” The lesson learned from that quote will remain with me for a lifetime, as I hope to pioneer an image of Jewish peacemakers throughout the world.
Lika Torikashvili is a part of the 2020-2021 Lauder Fellow cohort, representing Bennington College. She is a part of the Lauder Fellowship: an international network of top Jewish student leaders seeking to represent and advocate on behalf of the global Jewish community on campus.