Jewish students, for the most part, just want to be students. On every single campus in the UK, it is absolutely safe to walk around as an identifiable Jew.
There are undoubtedly incidents of concern; trying to sweep those under the rug would be naïve, dangerous and just plain stupid. Yet there seems to be this myth that Jewish students need to be treated differently, that actually we’re not just ‘students’.
That we’re different and should be treated as such. This isn’t a myth coming from outside the community (before I raise alarm bells about enforced segregation), rather my concern is that it’s coming from inside.
The problem is that this issue deepens into denominational segregation within our community. I was asked about what effort I’d made to engage exclusively with progressive Jewish students on campus during my campaign.
My answer was exactly the same as it would have been if the word Progressive was replaced by Orthodox, Chassidic or Reform. None. Absolutely none. Instead, I took a better route. I’ve made an effort to engage with every student; regardless of their background, regardless of their denomination, regardless of their beliefs.
If a progressive student (or group of students) approached me with concerns, I would absolutely understand that they have specific needs which we could discuss appropriately on how best to address them. But the idea that I should treat progressive students or orthodox students (or any denomination) differently is precisely the problem.
- Meet the candidates vying to be the next UJS president
- OPINION – Annie Cohen: My non Zionism makes me the best candidate to lead this union
- OPINION – Hannah Rose: Empowering Jewish life on campus is at the core of my identity
Now before I get an inbox full of hateful messages (again), people should understand that I’ve fought to make the Jewish society on my campus more inclusive for progressive students.
I battled against UJS to create welfare and denominations officer for our committee, a position designed specifically to ensure our society was inclusive.
Someone attempted to corner me by asking if I’d put events on for Masorti students on my campus. My answer? No, of course I didn’t! I didn’t put events on that were exclusive to any single community, so that means I didn’t put on orthodox events either.
As the President of Manchester Jewish Society I created events which brought our community closer together, not drove us further apart.
Don’t get me wrong, if Masorti students had requested something to help them feel more included in our society, then absolutely I would’ve bent over backwards to provide it. But a Jewish Society night out? Cross-denominational. Israeli Ambassador visiting? Cross-denominational. A Holocaust memorial talk? Don’t you dare think about politicising that, because then we really will have a problem.
My point is that people need to stop slapping label on everything. We need a President who’ll bring us closer together by focusing on our communality, not drive us further apart by focusing on differences.
In terms of on campus, we need to make sure that Jewish students can be whatever kind of student they want to be. Want to live with all Jews? Go for it! Want to do what I am and be the only Jew in the house? Do it! I still keep kosher, I still go to shul and you’ll be surprised how understanding people really are.
I live with a Muslim, a Peruvian Catholic and my closest university friend, a Protestant. Jewish students aren’t snowflakes, we’re normal people who want to get on with our lives and we need a President who recognises that.
When issues arise that need to be addressed, we should address them. It’s time for our community to come together and we don’t achieve that by focusing on what makes us different, we achieve that by focusing on the things that make our community- well, a community.