Blog  J Street U, I’m Hearing Two Things

J Street U, I’m Hearing Two Things

Dear J Street U,

My name is Debbie. I have the great honor this year to be serving as President of NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. One of my favorite things about this role is that I have the opportunity to work with the board and influence how NFTY activates thousands of Jewish teens around issues, including the many facets of Israeli life and politics. We have seen this year that NFTY has to do a better job of preparing teens to enter college with a deeper understanding of Israel and her neighbors. We have committed to pursuing this – starting with Rabbi Jacobs’ promise to ensure that maps with the green line are spread across the movement.

I sat only a few feet away from Rabbi Jacobs two days ago, when he made this promise at the J Street National Conference in front of hundreds of J Street U students. For the last two days, I’ve been immersed in the J Street experience, learning through one-on-one conversations and panel discussions. I’ve also heard from many J Street U leaders. Today, these J Street U leaders encouraged us all to walk to the headquarters of Hillel International. They asked one thing, but I heard two.

One thing I heard was that J Street U students were rallying to protest Hillel International due to the absence of Eric Fingerhut at the J Street National Conference.

The other thing I heard was that J Street U students were gathering to open a dialogue with Hillel, an organization that partners with J Street U on so many campuses.

Over 1,000 strong here at the conference and even bigger beyond, it is clear that J Street U has the power of the people. It mobilizes students across the religious, social, and political boundaries to be activists for a cause that matters. Because we are committed to making a difference, to listening to one another, and hearing a wide variety of voices, there needs to be a balance between the concerns of adult leadership and stakeholders and the organizing efforts of students. Here at the conference, we’ve talked so much about how throughout history, students are always at the forefront of social change. Young people lead movements because they are unafraid to be bold.

Here’s the thing about movements: they cannot move anywhere alone. Today, when J Street U students walked to Hillel International, I worried about what Hillel and the rest of the world was hearing. I hope that the statement heard more clearly was the second one, the one I think was intended. I hope that the statement spoken more loudly was the beginning of a conversation, not the beginning of a cycle of unfounded hostility amongst Jewish institutions.

The many organizations (including J Street U and Hillel) that work to empower young people to follow their hearts and minds should not and can not be embroiled in so much conflict that we can’t unify ourselves to look outward. We must demand conversation with decorum if we want to be equals on the playing field.

This fall, I will begin college at the University of Pennsylvania. I’d like to be involved with J Street U and with Hillel, among other things. The teens who are graduating NFTY and joining college classes around the country may look to take similar paths. I look forward to hearing how the conversation between the leadership of J Street U and Mr. Fingerhut will unite the two organizations. I hope that very soon, I will hear just one thing: the Jewish organizations that I will be a part of view each other as partners and allies.


Debbie Rabinovich

NFTY President 5774-5775