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Outgoing President Letter : Avigayil Benstein

Recently, I gave my childhood bedroom to my little sister. She had just come back from a year of volunteering with the Jewish community in South Africa, and was moving back into my parents' house to reside there throughout her army service. I myself moved out 6 years ago, and it simply didn't seem right that my two sisters would have to share while the room in which I grew up sat empty across the hall.

It was bittersweet, giving her that room. Teenage rebel that I was, I drew and painted on my bedroom walls, which soon went from being an artistic outlet for my teenage angst to being a tapestry of memories created by myself and my friends, commemorating and encapsulating precious moments from my childhood and into my early adulthood.

But I knew it was time. Time for the illuminated walls to be painted over in the shades that she chose, a clean slate in which she could create and cherish new memories. It was time to hand over my creation to someone new, to do with it what she may.

When reflecting upon my feelings about leaving WUJS, I found them very similar to my feelings about giving my childhood bedroom to my little sister. Bittersweet.

I've spent the past two years pouring my heart and soul into this organization, working at all hours of the day and night, dealing with my fair share of challenges, and falling in love with it all. Above all I fell in love with the people I had the privilege of working with.

My first and greatest love is for the leaders of the Jewish Student Unions around the world. You took a leap of faith by electing me to be your President, and chose to accept me into your midst, an untrained and inexperienced stranger among you, while never once making me feel like an outsider. You inspired me, and continue to inspire me every day, with your dedication and perseverance, sometimes in the face of insurmountable odds. You bring life and light and joy into your Jewish communities, many of you sustaining young Jewish life in your country single handedly. You have a passion for your cause and for your peers that is unrivaled, and woe be to any who underestimate or undervalue you. It has been a true privilege serving you and being a part of your world.

One of the biggest perks of this position was the opportunity to meet with and learn from some of the most brilliant and influential people in the Jewish world. Building relationships and partnerships with colleagues in other Jewish organizations while serving a limited term can be a challenging task, and yet I was met with nothing but support, encouragement and respect. Some of these professional relationships have even developed into what I know will be lifelong friendships. I could not be more grateful to all the partner organizations I had the honor of working with, and I am confident that the partnerships we worked so hard to build will be in good hands moving forward.

Mine is not a job that can be done alone. I hope that those of you who helped me, whether publicly or behind the scenes, know who you are and that you have my deepest gratitude. Often I found myself reaching out for advice, emotional support, and even political council. There are too many people to thank, and they won't fit in to this one post, but even so, there are some people who cannot go unmentioned.

My parents, Joel and Debbie, were there for me through every high and every low. Daniel Cohen, Avi Mayer, Chaya Pomeranz, Gilad Levian and Yossi Abramowitz, among many others, thank you for always being there for me to lean on and seek advice from in times of crisis. Joel Marcovitch, David Breakstone, Sarah Mali, Daniel Radomsky, John Malkinson, Eli Yedid and Yakov Hagoel, thank you for showing me the ropes and helping me navigate the politics of the Jewish world. Yoni Hammerman, Zev Hurwitz, thank you for always answering the phone at 4 a.m. (my time) and being all around wonderful people to work with. To this year's and last year's WUJS board, thank you for caring about the future of WUJS and the role you played in pushing the organization forward. Lastly, I need to thank Yoni Mann. Although we didn't always see eye to eye, I couldn't have done it without you, and you always came through when it counted most.

Each of you has played an instrumental role in bringing WUJS to where it is right now, and I couldn't be more grateful.

This post is already overly long and emotional, so I will finish with this. While giving up my bedroom to my sister was difficult for me, seeing the joy it gave her warmed my heart. So it is now with WUJS. I pass on this organization, with the memories, friendships and significance it holds for me, to a new generation of young leaders, knowing they will care for it and cherish it as I have. They will create new memories, they will invest in it and take it to new heights I could only dream of. They will build their own relationships, partnerships and programs.

The new WUJS board is made up of a wonderful group of dedicated individuals, who are both inspiring and inspired, and I can't wait to see what they create.

And my successor?

Well. I could wish Jonathan Braun all the luck in the world, but he won't need it. I am truly privileged to hand WUJS over to someone so capable, who cares so much, and who is genuinely there for all the right reasons. Jewish students everywhere are lucky to have you, and I couldn't be more proud.

Thank you all for the last two years. I am forever changed.

Mayhaps our paths will cross again,

All my love,

Avigayil Benstein


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