My experience at a large Jewish Society (J-Soc) was grand to say the least.
I studied Geography and Business Management at the University of Leeds, and I wish I could compare my initial expectations with the reality, but the truth is that I did not have the slightest idea as to how a J-Soc operated and how my experience would pan out. What I can say, however, is that from my first Friday Night Dinner, I experienced warmth and hospitality in complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of starting at University, and it felt like home.
Large J-Socs can host a vast number of events on a regular basis, and if you choose to participate, you will never have a dull moment. There is always a huge variety, from intimate Lunch and Learns where Jewish students lead discussions on challenging and sometimes unexpected topics, to larger events such as Shabbat dinners with a buzzing atmosphere, Interfaith panels, crazy Purim parties and High Holy Day meals and services.
J-Socs create space for their members’ religious affiliations in various ways, and I strongly appreciated the variety of different religious services that larger J-Socs have the capacity to offer. Having grown up in a traditional Orthodox family, I had never considered alternatives to my standard Friday night routine before coming to Leeds, where I attended a welcoming and intriguing egalitarian service that opened my eyes to the fact that there isn’t one set way of celebrating Shabbat. Smaller J-Socs might offer a different service each week or blend various traditions to create their own style of observance, which can be an incredible way to explore Judaism, but I appreciated the chance to immerse myself in a Shabbat experience that was the complete opposite of my norm. For that reason, a large J-Soc can be great for providing a cross-communal experience.
One other thing that people rarely stop to appreciate is the variety and diversity of people you can meet through J-Soc. Students from all over the country and even the world look to their J-Soc for a Jewish home at university, and that provides an amazing social opportunity. The intimacy of a smaller J-Soc definitely has its appeal, but the hugely diverse range of people you will be exposed to in a larger Jewish student community will fill this void as you’re sure to click with likeminded people. If you are willing to put time and effort into a large J-Soc, I guarantee you will meet friends for life, and the whole experience will be really rewarding.
On another point, if you choose to run for a committee position, you will be responsible for a huge number of Jewish students, and although the roles can be vast, you will learn skills that will stay with you throughout your degree and later in life.
From services to support and Friday night soup, large J-Socs provide so many opportunities for you to create your own Jewish journey through university. Overall, your J-Soc can be your Jewish home at university no matter how many members it has, but if you are looking for a J-Soc which provides an array of social, educational, and religious opportunities and are not afraid to get stuck in, then joining a large J-Soc is definitely for you. There is a place for everyone!
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