Upon my election in December 2014, one journalist described me as the “outsider” President. I’d come from the north-east of England, hadn’t studied at a Jewniversity, was a member of a declining youth movement, and had dodgy hearing to boot. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that sometimes a few different spices can give an already beloved recipe a whole new taste.
This year at UJS, we’ve built upon the impressive work of previous teams despite a tumultuous political context within the student movement and broader society. From Aberdeen to Exeter, thousands of students have engaged with a huge plethora of events, programmes and campaigns. To be honest, it’s pretty hard for me to pick out the highlights.
I’m truly in awe of the achievements of students on campus and the UJS teams that support them. I’ve seen incredible events and campaigns play out, led by students and dictated by their needs. This could not have been clearer than at our Student Awards, showcasing the amazing work students are doing across the UK and Ireland to build vibrant Jewish communities on campus. If you’re reading guys, I cannot thank you enough for all you do!
With the UJS team, we’ve pushed the boundaries of traditional UJS communications, sticking a camera in their face to film our Rosh Hashanah ‘Ghost’ parody video and supporting our communications team on the wonderfully powerful #LabelFree video campaign series. The videos we made this year reached thousands of viewers, and have engaged our audiences to an unprecedented extent.
Of course, I can’t forget our amazing season of democracy in December. For the first time since 2007, we had four candidates vying for the UJS Presidency; moreover, the wondrous standard of their candidacies was reflected in the phenomenal number of votes cast – over 1100 – supporting their campaigns. I’m excited to see what Josh’s year as President will bring for UJS, and to watch what happens with my rose-tinted glasses on.
But above all for me, it’s meant an awful lot to work on inclusion within UJS and to have opportunities to create conversation in this community that I never imagined to find spaces for. Delivering a JDOV on deaf Jewish identity, I had no choice but to truly analyse myself, to come to terms with my disability and ultimately learn to celebrate it. In doing this, I worked on finding opportunities for students to do so in a Jewish context as well. We organised a Liberation Conference championing the LGBTQI+, women, disabled and mental health experiences of Jewish students that connected participants to those vocal on these issues within the community. It was the kind of event I wish I’d gone to when I started out at university that might have given me more confidence to articulate my identity and my Jewishness when I was younger. Whilst we don’t yet have an organisation in the Jewish community that works specifically on promoting and amplifying the voices of disabled communal leadership, I could not feel more grateful to UJS for having created this rare platform for me throughout my time as a student activist.
I might have started as an “outsider” President, but I can promise you I haven’t ended my time as one. This community has welcomed me this year more than I ever expected, and I am sure my love for this will only deepen as time passes. For every student who’s come from a peripheral community, who’s moved into a new Jewish space that isn’t seemingly quite theirs, who holds an identity that’s framed to be at odds with ‘mainstream’ Jewishness – you’re no outsider. You’re an important part of the vibrant middle of this community, and you make it all the richer.