International Report: Building a generation capable of facing the challenges of our time

International Report: Building a generation capable of facing the challenges of our time

In Belgium and all around the world

We are very glad to present our new column: The international report aims to give Jewish activists and Union leaders from all over the world a platform to outline their current focus, present campaigns and what they have been working on recently. This column will solely be written in English and can be understood as a space for our international fellow partners in crime to share their inputs. Opening this section is Joanna Peczenik, the current Co-President of the Belgium Union of Jewish Students (UEJB), located in Brussels.

Woman, Jewish and progressive. These are the three parts of my identity that have shaped my involvement, both in and out of UEJB. As Jews, our values come from the history we carry. Drawn from the stories of the departure from Egypt, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and many others, we carry values of freedom, openness, solidarity and equality. And while these values may sound like sweet music that lulls us through our lives, we also have the power to transform them into specific actions. While the values that come from these different identities add up and enrich each other, it is sometimes more difficult to conciliate the experiences and challenges that come with each one of them. Many Jewish students have had great difficulty working in the progressive sphere because of the latent antisemitism that can even be violent there. Many women have had their voice and place challenged within the Jewish community. Are these challenges that have made multi-dimensional engagement essential on a personal and UEJB level? A commitment based on the will to create a progressive place for Jewish women, within and outside our communities, so that our voices are heard, taken into account and so that the imbalances caused by an inherently patriarchal society are compensated for as best as we can. Our multidimensional commitment aims to take into consideration the different identities of each person as well as the discriminations linked to each of these identities which can add up and overlap.

The magnitude of the task seems immense. And yet, step by step, youth and Jewish youth are making their voices heard throughout the world. At UEJB we know that our action
within our communities is far from being vein. We strive to remain consensual within the community while fighting battles that carry strong and bold messages. This chutzpah that characterizes us is essential to forge a generation that is committed, aware of the issues that surround it and open to the world. Because we need a Jewish youth that is open to the outside world and concerned with the well-being of its neighbors, a Jewish youth whose fights are collective. It is essential for the Jewish community as well as for other communities that we recognize our partners wherever they are, that we work together towards a common goal, as we have done in the Never Again Right Now campaign, a cooperation headed by EUJS and composed of activists from JSUD, JöH and UEJB. Taking part in such a campaign whose goal was to shine a light on the violations of human rights in the Uyghur region and the genocide committed against the Uyghur minority, has allowed us, as Jews, to send a strong message of solidarity. It has also led us to demand specific action from governments who may have been reluctant to name the genocide as such. The Never Again Right Now campaign in Belgium led to the recognition of the risk of genocide by the federal parliament and strengthened contacts between the UEJB, political representatives fighting against the genocide of the Uyghurs and those fighting against antisemitism, too. The convergence of our fights against all forms of discrimination can only give a broader scope to our common and multiple messages.

It is precisely on this basis that we, young Belgian Jews, are striving to build a generation capable of facing the challenges of our time.

What are our options to help when our democracies are building walls on the borders of Europe? We unite almost all the Jewish youth of Brussels in collecting basic necessities for the refugees in Belgium.

What can we do to have an impact when the Chinese Communist Party tried and is still trying to make the Uyghur people disappear ? Together with the Association of Uyghurs of Belgium, we advocated for the recognition of the risk of genocide against the Uyghur minority in the federal parliament.

What could we do, faced with the fact that the city of Aalst tolerates antisemitic caricatures every year during its carnival? We lit a Channukkia, a symbol of resilience, resistance and hope, in front of Aalst‘s town hall without any authorization.

What message could we bring through when a Jewish grave is vandalized with Nazi symbols? We organized a cleaning of Jewish graves in the Kraainem cemetery with the message „deface one Jewish grave and we will shine 50“.

In addition to all this, there is the return of war to our continent, the trivialization of hate speech, the ecological crisis, the exhaustion of our democracies and the growing threat of the far-right. In Belgium, whether from an electoral point of view, where Vlaams Belang is leading in the polls, or from a conscientious point of view, where we see an increase in intolerance and rejection.

Let‘s not be fooled, even if Jews are not at the center of right-wing extremist discourse in Belgium today, it is illusory to believe that they choose to only hate certain minorities. The climate fostered by these parties and those who try to imitate them by radicalizing their rhetoric is deleterious to society as a whole. We are fighting them and will continue to fight them for as long as it takes.

It is with determination that we work to create a youth that is also ready to act, to revolt in the face of injustice and to have the deep conviction that freedom is the fight of all for all. The values that we carry at UEJB remind us constantly, that the opposite of despair is not hope, it is to fight.

Joana Peczenik

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