‘I want to be the friend that they can rely on’: Queen’s Student Activists, part six

‘The Journal’ chats with Nati Pressmann

Image supplied by: Supplied by Nati Pressmann
Pressmann works to fight antisemitism on university campuses.

Nati Pressmann, ArtSci ’25, has a long family history of Jewish activism.

“My grandfather was an activist for Jewish people in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union at the time [was] not friendly towards Jewish people, they were antisemitic,” Pressmann said in an interview with The Journal.

Pressmann’s grandfather suffered persecution by the state. According to her, he was raided by the KGB, who tore his home apart to search for illegal materials. 

“Those who spoke out about [persecution] were called ‘refuseniks’ who would try to leave the Soviet Union, but they would be denied multiple times,” Pressmann said.

Pressmann’s grandfather tried to leave the Soviet Union many times but was routinely denied exit due to his activism.

“They always refused him under the idea of state secrets.”

Stories of her family’s resistance inspired Pressmann to continue their advocacy in her own life. She hopes to continue her grandfather’s legacy as a Jewish advocate.

“My grandfather taught me that if he can outshine the KGB, if my family could be in the gulag, I think it’s just right for me to continue that [resistance].”

***

One of the ways Pressmann carries on her family’s legacy is by being an advocate for Jewish students on university campuses.

“The importance of [Jewish advocacy], and the importance of fighting antisemitism in universities, [is] because university, for a lot of people it’s a completely new switch—we’re open to new ideas and new experiences.”

Pressmann has worked with multiple Jewish organizations, including Queen’s Hillel and Jewish on Campus.

“Jewish on Campus was founded in summer of 2020 by university students who created an Instagram page to share incidents of antisemitism that were happening at their universities and their friends’ universities,” she said.

Jewish on Campus grew quickly, gaining international attention.

“[Jewish on Campus] just partnered with World Jewish Congress, which is one of the main international Jewish organizations,” Pressmann said.

As an ambassador, she writes resolutions on how to fight antisemitism on campus.

“I’ve written a lot of resolutions for them, proposals, and amendments for these things that we’re passing in our somewhat of a congress setup.”

On Queen’s campus, Pressmann works to advocate for creating space for Jewish students.

“I’m interested in kind of creating more conversations about Jewish life, and I’m interested in ensuring awareness of antisemitism, and also advocating for Jewish people to be included in bias training things in other ways,” Pressmann said.

“[It is important] to continue education and advocacy, on behalf of the people, including ways of speaking to AMS officials, or speaking to people in charge of clubs.”

It’s important to her to advocate for students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to become more engaged with Jewish advocacy and conversations around antisemitism.

“Listen to what [Jewish people] have to say, make friends with Jews, speak to them. Learn about Judaism, the same way that you should learn about any other form of hatred like antisemitism.”

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Pressmann wants to be a voice for Jewish students at Queen’s who are unable to speak out themselves and help create a campus where Jewish students are about to express themselves without fear.

“There are many Jewish students at Queens who don’t feel comfortable wearing the Star of David because they’re worried about something happening. And that’s completely valid. But you know, for me, I will always wear mine,” Pressmann said.

Pressmann also hopes to be someone other Jewish students can lean on.

“I want to be the person that when a Jewish student has something happen to them that is antisemitic, or they feel nervous about [something] being antisemitic, I want to be the friend that they can rely on who can help them through that, even if they just need someone to speak to about it,” she said.

“Creating a strong Jewish community is something my father taught me as someone who was raised as a Jew in Germany, where there wasn’t a very large [community] back then. And he always reminds me the importance of a strong Jewish community that relies on each other.”

Tags

Activism, Judaism; anti-Semitism, student activism

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