Stu­dent chief

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS -

“My life is a se­ries of what could be con­tra­dic­tions,” she says.

“I’m Bri­tish and Amer­i­can and Is­raeli, I’m re­li­gious but very lib­eral, I love shul but some­times it’s hard to be there as a woman.”

She thinks that these as­pects of her iden­tity help her to un­der­stand and serve Jewish stu­dents from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and var­ied re­li­gious and political back­grounds.

Ms Ben­stein grew up in Is­rael, ini­tially speak­ing English with a Bri­tish ac­cent, just like her mother Deb­bie Ben­stein, who grew up in Gold­ers Green and made aliyah af­ter fin­ish­ing uni­ver­sity. Then 21 years ago, at age three, she sud­denly switched ac­cents to the US pro­nun­ci­a­tion of her fa­ther.

“My grand­mother was ap­palled when it hap­pened,” she says.

But while she sounds Amer­i­can, her Bri­tish iden­tity is strong: “My grand­mother Jenny Kestrel ar­rived in Bri­tain when she was three af­ter Kristall­nacht, and Bri­tain ac­cepted her and wel­comed her, so there’s a strong feel­ing in my fam­ily of grat­i­tude to Bri­tain.”

In Lon­don she feels com­fort­able “in a way I don’t in many other places.”

Her army ser­vice was Bri­tishthemed, spent rep­re­sent­ing the IDF to the UK me­dia.

When she takes the helm of WUJS in the sum­mer, re­plac­ing an­other Brit, Yosef Tarshish, Ms Ben­stein will be hop­ing to con­front long­stand­ing chal­lenges like BDS. She also wants to in­no­vate in newer ar­eas, such as with the wave of peo­ple dis­cov­er­ing they are Jewish dur­ing their stu­dent years and want­ing to con­nect to the com­mu­nity.

One of her big ideas is to get Jewish stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions in dif­fer­ent coun­tries to share the work they do, be­cause they are of­ten go­ing back to the draw­ing board each time they face a chal­lenge, even if ac­tivists else­where have dealt with it.

“They run a cam­paign and then it just sits on a Google Drive some­where,” she notes, ex­plain­ing that she wants to cre­ate a “re­source bank” for ev­ery­thing from Jewish his­tory classes to ways to fight of­fen­sive res­o­lu­tions.

“You al­ready have the slo­gans from one place, and de­tails of what stu­dents were say­ing and how they were say­ing it. So shar­ing this [ex­pe­ri­ence] around makes sense, and gives us more power as a uni­fied and am­pli­fied voice.”

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