Reflections on the 2022-2023 Ambassador Program’s First Open Forum

Blake Ziegler
November 7, 2022

This week, the Jewish on Campus Ambassador Program convened for its first Open Forum of the 2022-2023 cohort. I’m here to discuss the Ambassador Program, the purpose behind our Open Forums, and what we accomplished over the weekend. 

Before continuing, let me introduce myself. I’m Blake Ziegler, a senior studying political science and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I was also a member of the Ambassador Program’s inaugural cohort, where I was the Midwest Committee Head. Now, I serve as Ambassador President. 

Now, let’s get to the important information. 

What’s the Ambassador Program?

The Ambassador Program is Jewish on Campus’s initiative to provide a democratic voice to Jewish students across North America. Students throughout the United States and Canada work together to combat antisemitism, advocate to university administrations, and support Jewish campus life. During the academic year, ambassadors are given opportunities to learn about Jewish advocacy, such as hearing about legal protections for Jewish students from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Due to JOC’s partnership with World Jewish Congress, ambassadors have access to experts and resources worldwide. Ambassadors use these tools to guide projects on their campuses. 

The Ambassador Program began in the 2021-2022 school year. This year, our second cohort has 39 ambassadors from 33 universities. As our program grows, we aim to give a voice to every Jewish student in the fight against antisemitism. You can learn more about the Ambassador Program here.

What’s an Open Forum?

In addition to learning about Jewish advocacy, our ambassadors act as a legislative body, representing the interests of North American Jewish students. Within regional committees or topic committees, ambassadors draft legislation to broadly address issues on their campuses or problems affecting Jewish students. Throughout the year, the entire body of ambassadors convene in an Open Forum to deliberate on this legislation. The resolutions we pass range from identifying policies a specific university should adopt to publishing a statement on behalf of North American Jewish students. 

The Open Forum is essential to the Ambassador Program because it instigates action on issues affecting Jewish students. When a resolution is passed, it sets broader enforcement mechanisms within JOC to enforce our legislation. For instance, JOC staff may work with an ambassador to advocate to university administrators on adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism or an antisemitism training for faculty. Passing legislation during the Open Forum is the first step to substantive change for Jewish students in North America. 

What happened in the last Open Forum?

Sunday’s Open Forum was the first one for this year’s cohort of ambassadors. Despite devoting most of our session to procedural and logistical information, we passed significant legislation. Our first action was passing a constitutional amendment clarifying the voting procedure for legislation. Next, we bestowed emeritus status on Rosemarie Goldstein and Hannah Siegel, who served as the appointed officers during the Ambassador Program’s inaugural year. It’s essential to recognize and applaud the efforts of those who came before us, a tradition we aim to keep in the Ambassador Program. 

After the first three pieces of legislation, we passed a resolution to condemn recent assaults against the separation of church and state and affirm the Ambassador Program’s support for the institution. As we expressed in the resolution, “The ability to freely practice one’s faith or avoid coercion from other faiths is dependent upon the barring of influence between religious institutions and the government.” We’re concerned by the rise of candidates calling for greater influence of religion in policymaking, especially by far-right Christian nationalists in the United States and Canada. Because many of our ancestors fled state-sanctioned religious persecution, North American Jewish students must stand firmly against attacks on the separation between church and state. 

Finally, we passed a resolution outlining action steps to protect and promote Jewish life at the University of Notre Dame. These efforts include adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, implementing student and faculty training on antisemitism, and conducting a study of peer institutions to investigate how Notre Dame can improve the experience of Jewish students. 

I hope readers find this piece useful as you learn about the Ambassador Program. I’ll offer regular updates after each Open Forum, but you can always access current and past legislation here. I look forward to you joining us on our mission to protect Jewish students across North America. 

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