As a board member of the J Street U program, I can say that the brand new organization is very exciting and has tremendous potential for creating change. I began working with J Street U staff and resources when it was not J Street U yet, but the UPZ--a similar organization which provided resources and networking to campus groups advocating for Middle East peace. Through the UPZ, I brought to my campus excellent speakers from all over the country, as well as from Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. I also was able to include my campus in the national "We Can't Wait" (for Middle East peace) campaign, which was very successful. When the UPZ became the campus branch of J Street, it brought along all its resources, connections, and established campus groups. Combined with the existing breadth and growing influence of J Street, J Street U has been able to provide even more for students who want to both educate and advocate autonomously on their individual campuses AND be part of a broader movement to create real change. So far, J Street U has been a huge success, with more resources and campus groups than when it was the UPZ...and with excellent guidance and encouragement from J Street. J Street U is still in the process of defining itself as both a part of J Street and a student-led movement, but again, J Street is providing the guidance and encouragement we need.
My name is Aimee Mayer and I am one of the members of J Street U's National Student Board. I have been fortunate enough to work with J Street U since the very beginning. J Street U as an organization seeks to provide a strong new voice to the debate about Israel and the Middle East. Its inclusiveness and willingness to engage with people of a wide variety of backgrounds is incredible and refreshing. As a board member, I have personally seen how student run it really is. All important decisions are completely based on student needs and student input. The policy statements and mission statement are written by the Student Board. It really is an organization for us and by us. Every student, not just the board, is asked to give feedback, suggestions, and policy input through a variety of means (conference calls, notecards or post-its during conferences, emails, etc). On individual campuses, J Street U does fantastic work, and individual groups can count on the support and advise of J Street U staff in planning their events, trying to secure funding, and more. Events cover a wide range of topics. At the University of Maryland, where I am President of J Street U, we just ran an event called "Of War and Water" which discussed the water crisis in the Middle East, how climate change may exacerbate this, current cooperation efforts surrounding water amongst Israelis and Palestinians (as well as other countries in the region), and the outlook going forward. Earlier in the year, we had a Party for Peace, which in addition to great music and food, featured OneVoice activists from Israel and Palestine who spoke with students about their experiences and peace education and advocacy work in Israel and Palestine.
When I heard about J Street, I knew that it was a breakthrough organization with a much needed message. As a young Jewish activist on Arab-Israeli issues, and a student of peace and conflict resolution, I had previously felt that my perspective was not being represented by other Jewish institutions. While I was advocating for looking at the conflict critically and reaching out to dialogue with all parties to develop a nuanced understanding, everywhere else I looked I saw only polarization. From personal experience, I have found that J Street has created a surge in interest and participation among my Jewish friends and peers who previously felt disconnected. At the J Street conference I have had the privilege to see the 250 youth from dozens of campuses who came to support J Street’s call for a new approach. They were excited to be there, really excited. Finally – seemed to be the sentiment echoed over and over – finally, after so much polarization and no progress, there is a movement that we can be a part of, a space where we can have a real dialogue and take effective action in pursuance of the goal everyone says they want – peace. It is through a movement like this, that has the best interest of Israel at heart and that opens the conversation, that we can finally make progress in the efforts toward a resolution. I am very proud to be a part of J Street and J Street U and I expect they will make be making a great impact on the way we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am confident it will be a positive one.