WUJS participants represented 36 different countries from around the world. (Photo credit: Dana Levinson Steiner)
The organization that once boasted members such as Freud, Einstein and Chaim Weizmann has fallen into debt and off the world stage. A group of new leaders hopes to change that.
By Tracy Frydberg
The tension was tangible and skepticism high on Saturday afternoon as Jewish student delegates from around the world took their seats in a Jerusalem hotel conference room for the candidate debate between Avigayil Benstein and Victor Yamin. Both were running for president of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS).
Neither was extremely well known, but with her perfect American-English and thoughtful answers, Benstein emerged in seconds as the more serious player, participants said after the debate.
The 24-year-old Jerusalem native is the daughter of a British mother and American father who met at a WUJS program years ago. Benstein’s platform ran on bringing to the conference table a mix of Diaspora awareness and an Israeli ability to maneuver bureaucracy.
Then there was 32-year-old Victor Yamin from Bnei Brak who discovered WUJS recently when someone told him he should run for president. Since he didn’t submit a platform, “random” and “unknown” were the common words heard to describe him.
There was also a third option: to postpone the election altogether. What unraveled was an awkward one-sided debate, with Benstein on the tilting end of snapping fingers and nodding heads.
These 165 young people from 36 countries were in town to vote on motions for the year and receive professional training during the 44th World Congress of Jewish Students (WCJS).
Also at the conference, in what was considered a significant move by the organization, according to Benstein, WUJS passed a motion at this year’s general assembly to recognize and remember the Armenian genocide. Its decision was based on the importance for a Jewish organization to fight all forms of racism, according to the motion’s text.
The organization’s recognition of the tragedy in Jerusalem was particularly noteworthy, considering that Israel still does not officially recognize the Armenian genocide, though the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee voted last year to recognize it.
Back on track
In 2007, the once-leading organization was on the verge of collapse. Today, it’s back on the upturn.
The 2017 WUJS Board with outgoing chairperson Yosef Tarshish in the middle. AMUJS co-founder Dan Smith is to his right. (Tracy Frydberg/Times of Israel)
The rejuvenation of WUJS is largely due to the efforts of the outgoing chairperson, Yosef Tarshish (it was voted to change the title from chairperson to president moving forward). The 26-year-old known as “Yos” was the driving force behind the organization’s new growth and direction. Originally from just outside of London, Tarshish made Aliyah in 2014 and lives in Jerusalem.