J Street U is keeping me in the Jewish community

Brent Efron, who is originally from the Boston area, is a junior at Washington University and the co-chair of J Street U Wash U. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Brent Efron

Supporting Israel was always an important part of my Jewish upbringing and education, both from my family and the Reform movement. As a child, my grandmother told me stories about the time she had spent in Israel. I heard about when the kibbutz she lived on could hear shellings of bombs so close that everyone had to seek shelter and about the bus route she took, which was bombed a day after she had been on it. These stories gave me an impression of Israel as an endangered place, as David in the “David and Goliath” story. 

As a senior in high school, I started to talk about Israel with a friend who I knew shared a lot of my values and beliefs in human rights and social justice. He was very critical of Israel, citing policies with which I was unfamiliar and using words I had never heard before, such as “occupation.” When I brought my questions from this conversation back to my family and my Jewish community, I was made to feel as if I was wrong to ask questions that were potentially critical of Israel. I was told that if I were critical of Israeli policies, I was anti-Israel – and by extension, a bad Jew. These responses made me feel alienated from my Jewish community. 

When I got to Washington University that fall, I did not plan on getting involved in Jewish life on campus. However, in the spring of my freshman year, I found J Street U at Wash U. I appreciate J Street U, a nationwide campus-based organization, becauses it supports Israel by loudly advocating for a two-state solution. J Street U was a place where I found other pro-Israel young people who have similarly complicated relationships with their Jewish communities. My experience is like that of many other Jewish college students. By calling out injustice and supporting a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel, J Street U is keeping me in the Jewish community.

This work is urgent – we have to act now to fight for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Ongoing settlement expansion activity in the West Bank is undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. 

 In August, J Street released a petition calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to tell the Israeli government that the United States opposes demolitions and expropriations of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, which are incredibly damaging to the peace process and to the affected communities. I was also incredibly proud to see the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) release a statement calling on the Israeli government to stop the proposed demolition of the Palestinian village of Susya. The URJ noted that demolitions “undermine the long term, essential goal of ensuring a stable and secure two state solution to the underlying conflict.” Seeing Jewish institutions stand for peace makes me feel like there is a place for me in the Jewish community.

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To support this leadership on campus J Street U Wash U and Wash U Hillel co-sponsored a Shabbat dinner where we discussed this important issue. We found that many Jewish students attended the dinner who had previously never been involved in Hillel and that they were excited to hear that parts of the Jewish community were challenging injustice that harmed Palestinians and endangered Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Events like these make me feel deeply proud to be part of the Jewish community. 

Now we are looking to continue to build on the momentum of this past summer by holding an event about Susya from 12:30 – 2 p.m. Nov. 5 with the support of Rabbi Susan Talve at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd. We hope you’ll join us, as we explore what it looks like for our community to be pro-Israel while staying true to our Jewish values. Lunch will be served at the event.