Anti-Semitism. Standing up for Israel against its detractors.All too often, these are the only themes through which Jewish people engage with their identity. But being a Jew is about much more than being defined by what we are against.
UJS has the opportunity to showcase this.
The troubling realities of Jewish life in this country should not be minimised, ignored or whitewashed, yet to allow them to define us is the greatest disservice to our collective Jewish identity imaginable.
As president of UJS, I was invited to speak on a panel on Bagels, Boycotts and Broiges: Just How Bad is Anti-Semitism at British Universities? From the premise of the question alone, it was clear the answer had already been decided and the language of fear and discord had won.
Similarly, at two annual dinners of prominent communal organisations, young people and the threat of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism prevailed in their appeal videos. While there is no doubt this scaremongering persuades donors to write large cheques today, instilling fear into our community about the university experience does a huge disservice to the students who will be on campus tomorrow.
To suggest Jewish students are paralysed by fear is a gross misrepresentation of the reality enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of the UK and Ireland’s 8,500 members of that group.
I’m not for a moment suggesting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity are not a problem on campus – CST’s recent research report empirically linking anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism proves this, and UJS works tirelessly with communal partners to tackle this reality. But to suggest this phenomenon defines campus experience is not only untrue, it is also deeply offensive to Jewish students. They, like all other students, go to university for the education, to meet new people and to enjoy themselves.
Following the troubling events at NUS last year and the former UJS team’s immense success in responding to these, we are able to renew our focus on bringing even more new and exciting programmes to campus.
We are launching career networks, connecting Jewish students to professionals working in their desired fields. We are giving disabled, LGBTQ+ and women students a space and a voice in our Liberation Networks. We are linking our Jewish values of olam chesed (a world of kindness) and tikkun olam (healing the world) with the festival of Succot to help tackle homelessness.
We are organising a trip to Spain to help students learn about Sephardi heritage and historic and contemporary interfaith relations. We are continuing to support our JSocs across the country to run weekly Friday night dinners and peer-led lunch-and-learn events. We are running speaker tours with Israeli groups advocating coexistence and peace.
We are organising trips to Israel for Jewish students and students from all faiths, cultures and backgrounds to experience the region firsthand. We are working with JSocs to organise events for Holocaust Memorial Day, the Balfour Centenary, Mitzvah Day, Interfaith Week, and Reclaim, our mental health awareness week.
All this is possible not because Jewish students live in fear, and not because certain issues are allowed to define Jewish campus life.
Jewish students are loud and proud of their identity. UJS, the voice of Jewish students, is behind them every step of the way. Now is the time for the community to join us.