In my last trip to University of California, Irvine, I was able to participate in Orange County Hillel’s annual Israel festival on campus. Each year students organize a weeklong celebration of Israel, which includes a Shabbat dinner, tabling on campus to teach the campus about Israel, and a social event celebrating Israel culture. One of the events held this year, in conjunction with the Azerbaijani Student Association, was a panel discussion on environmental issues titled “Making the world a better place.” On the panel was Deputy Consul General of Israel Dr. Uri Resnick Consul General of Switzerland Bruno Ryff, Deputy Consul General of Azerbaijan Ramil Gurbanov and moderator Professor Richard Matthew of the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs
As an Israeli that has been living in New York for the past five months, I was surprised to hear the words “Happy Memorial Day” said casually this a number of weeks ago.
When people in the city kept asking me what fun plans I had made for the holiday, I was shocked. In the United States, Memorial Day is a long weekend holiday, which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Typically Americans celebrate Memorial Day by traveling somewhere, having barbeques and picnics, and working on their summer tans (this Memorial Day’s rainy and chilly weather aside).
Last month, I journeyed from Boston to Manhattan to attend “Time to Lead,” a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As a leader of Israel activism on and off campus, I have been to many such discussions. And by the end of them, I tend to leave disheartened by complexities of the conflict and uncertain whether my efforts are affecting change. But this conversation was different. I walked out of the 92th street Y doors more empowered and hopeful than when I entered.
My name is Shiran Azati. I'm 24 years old and I was born and raised all my life in Israel.
So what is it like to be Israeli?
The majority in Israel is Jewish, therefore I never experienced a conflicted identity like my father and grandparents. My father's family came from Iran and was the only Jewish family in their village. Consequently, they were always the minority and always divided between the feeling of being Jews on one hand, and Iranian on the other. In Israel, I never need to choose between identities.
This past week I had the pleasure of visiting my friend and colleague at the Lauder Business School in Vienna, Austria for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. As an observant Jew, living in Bologna always poses a challenge, but the difficulties are exponentially greater during the Jewish holidays. With a community of just twelve moderately religious families, finding a place to eat, celebrate, or even pray and learn can be a huge challenge. With that in mind, I asked my friend if I could come for a visit.
The Jewish community of South Africa has played a pivotal role in the unfolding history of our country. From pioneering the establishment of cities and founding industries to playing leadership roles in the anti-Apartheid struggle, Jewish South Africans have made great contributions. Even today, many Jews are passionately committed to making a difference in the lives of their fellow South Africans. No matter what part of the globe they may currently call home, a key group of Jewish South Africans work to ensure that the dream of a better future for all is realized.
Protection Challenges: The Role of Faith-Based Organizations and Communities
Even as you read this article, the crisis in Syria is worsening and the estimated 600,000 people who have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war there face another day of struggling to survive. They are just some of the millions who have been displaced in conflicts the world over. Ethnic tensions and inequitable access to land have also led to renewed violence in the east and north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, resulting in the internal displacement of over 2.2 million people. The UNHCR estimates that almost 70,000 people have fled into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
During Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) many people put this famous poem on their Facebook page:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Coming from a Reform background, my choice to take a gap year in Israel caught quite a few close friends by surprise. Whereas I am full of pride for my faith and my people, I have never been religious by any traditional measure. Luckily, my evolution to a “good” Jew was hardly a challenge while living in Jerusalem, where almost everything is kosher and there are synagogues on nearly every corner.
I had the privilege of attending a seminar organized by the European Union of Jewish Students in Geneva, which gave me a unique entry-point into the world of international diplomacy, human rights, and international humanitarian law. Entering the conference with little background on either the Council itself or international humanitarian law, I was excited to see how the international community protects the rights of millions of struggling people worldwide. While much of what I discovered over the course of the seminar left me in sadness and dismay, what struck me most about the week was the incredible reception we received—not just as students, but as partners.