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The presidents of 18 Jewish student organizations met Wednesday night to reconstitute the Jewish Student Union (JSU), a forum to discuss issues facing UCLA’s Jewish community.
Jewish leaders gathered with the hopes of creating a setting where students can discuss Jewish life on campus, possible responses to crises arising within the community and the coordination of common events. Organizers of the gathering, which took place at the Jewish Awareness Movement (JAM) library, stressed that the union does not intend to be a decision-making body but instead aims to be both a transparent and unbiased platform for debate. Attendees would not be forced to take positions but would gain a better understanding of the issues to take back to their respective organizations.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the all too true saying ‘two Jews, three opinions,'” said Leah Moyal, JSU organizer and Hillel president. “I realize that we’ll never completely agree or reach a consensus on most issues, but that’s also not the purpose of this meeting or group. We’re not a deciding body, but rather individuals that can speak only on behalf of ourselves.”
JSU’s meetings, tentatively scheduled once per month, would be open to any community stakeholder who wishes to participate in a discussion. The topics of discussion will be compiled on an agenda by an unbiased mediator, selected partially due to their lack of affiliation with any student board. In order to promulgate the location and time of the meeting, JSU members who attended Wednesday night’s meeting created a GroupMe, which they stress will never serve as a discussion forum in and of itself.
Yet some student leaders expressed doubt as to the viability of a non-decision-making union. Brad Fingard, co-chair of J-Street U said, “I think the intention is good, but I’ve been involved in this conversation every year. In my experience it [JSU] is not a decision making body — then when a crisis arises, it becomes a decision making body.”
Fingard is not alone in his critique. Other student leaders involved in previous iterations of JSU similarly recall that the union always begins as a body that vows to make no resolutions but eventually does so.
“The Jewish Student Union is revolutionary,” Arielle Moktarzadeh, USAC President and former president of Bruins for Israel, said. “It is the first iteration of a coalition of Jewish student leaders from across our diverse campus that is committed to creating a space dedicated to discussing Jewish student experiences at UCLA. It is a testament to our tradition of creating intentional space for discussion, debate and dialogue without necessitating decisions.”
The concept of a Jewish Student Union stretches back to the early days of UCLA’s Jewish community. In the last thirty years, a coordinating body of Jewish students has taken many forms and names. In 1990, an advertisement in Ha’Am sponsored by JSU reads, “Kahanism is not Zionism.” Additionally, in the early 2000s, JSU was heavily involved in advocated for kosher dining on campus, according to the Daily Bruin.