NEW YORK – Seventy-five high school students from over 20 countries gathered virtually this past weekend as part of the inaugural Jewish Youth Assembly, a World Jewish Congress initiative for 15- to 18-year-olds to learn from each other, hear from experts and prepare for their future as the leaders of global Jewry.
The Feb. 13 and Feb. 27 events came as Jews around the world face heightened antisemitism and animosity toward Israel.
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder emphasized the significance of the event and its unique target group, saying, “My focus has always been turning to your generation. That is because you are the future of the Jewish people. Without your involvement, without your caring, there is no future. It is as simple as that.”
Lauder added: “Here is my wish: One day in the not-too-distant future, people will look back at the first Jewish Youth Assembly and say, ‘There were only 75 students taking part at that time and today there are thousands?’ ”
“All of you are part of a historic undertaking at a very critical time,” he also said.
The students, representing myriad views and backgrounds, were divided into delegations that met with leading representatives from 11 Jewish communities spanning five continents, to learn about challenges and opportunities in different parts of the world. The communities represented included Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Students then met in committees that addressed major issues facing the Jewish people, such as online hate, Holocaust remembrance and Jewish unity. After hearing from experts on the various topics, the committees drafted and adopted resolutions that offered their generation’s solutions.
“Antisemitism is a danger for Jews and for all of us, and antisemitism is incompatible with everything the European Union stands for,” Katharina von Schnurbein, the first European Commission Coordinator on combatting antisemitism, said in her remarks to the students, adding, “Jewish people have enriched and continue to enrich Europe’s culture, intellectual and religious heritage. As part of the Jewish Youth Assembly, aiming to shape and contribute to society around you, you continue in this great tradition.”
Nachman Shai, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, said, “Today, you gather not to talk about history but to imagine the future. The new ideas bringing our people into the 21st century will come from you.” Shai also reflected on the legacy of the World Jewish Congress and expressed a wish to meet with the students in the near future.
Jonathan Braun, President of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), an organization representing more than 800,000 Jewish students globally, shared insights into the power of young people to make an impact on the Jewish world. Braun told the students, “It’s very important to raise those issues and be that voice for you and your peers for one main reason. If you don’t do it, and if you don't do it the way you want to see the change, no one else will do it.”
In the years ahead, as hundreds more students take part in Jewish Youth Assemblies, the WJC will provide an essential education for this group that will collectively impact the Jewish world.
The assembly provides a launchpad for students to become involved in the World Jewish Congress’ portfolio of future leadership initiatives for people ages 18 to 45 to acquire the tools and networks to serve as incoming leaders in their Jewish communities. JYA was built by the WJC NextGen team with the support of WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps members Chaya Pomeranz-Sherman and Elmira Tarivierdiieva and Ronald S. Lauder Fellows Jake Benyowitz, Liat Sadovitch, and Nechama Huba.
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