Students’ president will bridge gap

PRESENT AND FUTURE: Yosh Tarshish with newly-elected president Avigail Benstein

AVIGAYIL Benstein is relishing the huge responsibility that lies ahead.

For the 24-year-old daughter of American-born Joel and Londoner Debbie (nee Kestel) has been elected as the World Union of Jewish Students president.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to do a lot to help Jewish students around the world,” she said.

“WUJS has a fabulously long history of activism and true social change for 93 years.

“We are living in a time of resurgence for Jewish student activism — there are now student groups in places such as Romania and Uruguay.

“There is a real rise in Jewish student life which WUJS can coordinate.”

Avigayil will be calling on her mixed background to achieve all that she wants to do during her time at WUJS.

She explained: “I come from a background filled with contradictions. I’m Israeli, American, British, religious and liberal.

“I grew up in a religious community and went to a pluralist, liberal, feminist Orthodox high school.

“I did sherut leumi (national service) and served as a foreign press liaison on the European desk of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

“All of this will help me to see everyone’s perspective and to bridge the gap between different communities.”

She added: “I’m a real believer in community and one of the reasons I got into this is because everyone should have that.

“Everyone is looking for two things — meaning and community.

“I want every Jewish student to have that opportunity, whether you’re Jewish in Manchester, Romania or Macedonia . . . you should all have that chance.”

Avigayil will be taking over from former Manchester J-Soc chairman Yosh Tarshish, who was also president of the Union of Jewish Students.

And what advice has he given to his replacement?

He said: “I’ve told her not to get discouraged. Working in a small office with a small team, it is easy to forget that there is a big network of activists out there — just keep going.

“When I think about my time in Manchester, I arrived on campus as a shy kid with very little self-esteem.

“I found my calling thanks to Manchester — it’s where I learned about activism.

“There’s something about Manchester’s community that has a way of rallying round.”

And Avigayil paid tribute to her predecessor.

She said: “Yosh is a true force of nature. The changes he has made to the WUJS have been immense.

“Representatives from all seven continents were at our conference — that’s a huge achievement”.

WUJS resolved at the conference to remember the Armenian Genocide, and to condemn and reject any attempt to deny, distort or ignore the historical reality of it.

It also pledged to raise consciousness and encourage public discourse on matters of Jewish pluralism in Israel.

And it was decided that March would be Antisemitism Awareness Month.

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