Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • I will speak out for Israeli students, because nobody else seems to want to

    Student Views
    Jun 22, 2016

    This blog has been shortlisted as part of our JC student blogger competition

    Back in February, when my student union passed a motion in support of BDS, I sent a message to a friend on the editorial team of the student newspaper, asking if I could write a response. I picked up and put down the metaphorical pen time and again, trying to find the right words to express my anger at having my country singled out in this way, at me being singled out by extension. In the end, I took the wrong course: I put the pen down. I had only one year left of my degree, I reasoned, better just to keep a low profile, keep my head down and let it blow over. I don’t immediately identify as Israeli to people I meet (thanks to my British accent, it’s not automatically clear), and I didn’t want to make myself a target.

    In the following months, everything that happened with NUS has made me realise that’s not an option. Nowhere has that been clearer than in the post-conference discussions. The endless, inane, cyclical arguments over whether NUS and its new president are antisemitic or simply anti-Zionist are as off-target as an Englishman in a World Cup penalty shootout. I am all of the above: Jewish. Zionist. Israeli. I am one of hundreds of Israeli citizens on campuses across the UK. Bouattia openly endorses violence against us, students that she supposedly represents, so what does it even matter if she genuinely is “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel”? How has that become the debate?

  • I come from refugee stock - that’s why I’ll be voting Remain on Thursday

    Student Views
    Jun 21, 2016

    Many of my more liberal Jewish friends have struggled in the past with my association with an immigrant identity. “Your family have lived in the UK for almost one hundred years,” someone said to me a few months ago. “Why do you define yourself as separate from the rest of the population; why do you still see yourself as a foreigner?” Non-Jewish friends have struggled too – when I explain that I can’t see myself as more British than Jewish, I’ve been met by raised eyebrows and incredulity.

    I’m not saying I don’t think Britain is my home. It one hundred per cent is, and I love it here. I very rarely feel religiously oppressed and I’ve been surrounded for my whole life by people who respect my background, are interested in my perspective, and value the differences between us. The only thing is, I’ve grown up hyper-aware of the fact that Jews haven’t always been treated this way, and we have to watch out because it doesn’t take much to become the scapegoat again. Time and time again, we’ve thought we were safe, and were then chased out of places we’ve called home. In my opinion, we should appreciate what we’ve got here – like, really appreciate it – but not let our guard down.

    And if my friends knew what was going on in my head most of the time, it would probably be clearer to them. A lot of what makes a person culturally British is a part of me, but a lot isn’t. I’ve never had the rush of excitement as Christmas approaches because I have my own festivals to get excited about. I experience a conflict of interest when England plays Israel at football. And when antisemitism levels rise, I feel that threat. We’re still Jews, and history has proved that we’ll always be somewhat separate. We’ll always be immigrants.

  • Impressions of Israel - from a Jew struggling with life in France

    Le Blog Français
    Jun 20, 2016

    We have visited Israel regularly since our honeymoon in 1972 but still marvel at its miracles. Truckloads of surplus oranges and austere kibbutzim have given way to superhighways, wifi-enabled trains and hi-tech innovation. Water treatment, solar panels and underwater gas supplies have made water and energy shortages a thing of the past. Israel’s intelligence and defence capabilities have universal respect, while a precariously small population has grown to more than 8 million. Viewed from France, aliyah looks more like an opportunity than a sacrifice as the economy keeps growing and everything seems possible.

    We left Paris struggling with unrelenting strikes, street violence and floods. We flew into Ben Gurion to bright skies, warm sun and a palpable sense of freedom, the weight of minority status lifted from our shoulders. Israelis ask anxiously about life in France and encourage aliyah with a smile, but their remarks feel welcoming while in Paris questions about aliyah feel like a form of expulsion.

    In Israel we take pleasure in everything. A “sound and light” night walk through Jerusalem’s Old City the extraordinary Hurva synagogue beautifully restored after Jordanian destruction in 1948, a miniature Eiffel Tower on Ben Yehuda, the lively Germany colony and train station, the new top floor restaurant at Ticho’s House, Mahane Yehuda transforming itself under our eyes. The French tramway rolling quietly through the city centre carrying Haredi rubbing shoulders with bare-armed tourists, Arab families and secular Jews. An assertive modernity dressed in Jerusalem stone.

  • Being a Jewish student at Oxford has been a mixed bag - but one I'm glad I experienced

    Student Views
    Jun 15, 2016

    Last week, as I walked down Oxford’s busy High Street on the way to hand in my dissertation, I felt myself overcome by an enormous sense of nostalgia over the four years I have spent at the University of Oxford. Without a doubt, some of my happiest memories will be forever attached to this place.

    Yes it is true that there have been a number of stories about antisemitism in the Labour Club and the wider student body (a topic I covered in an earlier blog post). It is also true that the town has played host to inflammatory anti-Israel speakers such as Norman Finkelstein and Ken Livingstone. I have also directly experienced the tensions that can sometimes arise between Jewish and Israeli students regarding Israel advocacy. This, however, is only one aspect of my experience at university. No Jewish student should feel put off studying at Oxford. For me, it has opened up many academic and personal opportunities and nurtured my enthusiasm for involvement in the Jewish community.

    Firstly, it goes without saying that the Chabad house and the JSoc have been wonderful. I am truly grateful to have had spiritual leaders as welcoming and caring as Rabbi Eli and Friedy Brackman, and Rabbi Michael and Tracy Rosenfeld-Schueler. I have spent many a joyous Shabbat dinner in their company. While it is often the case that Jewish students have found it difficult to have their needs met at smaller campuses, this was never the case in Oxford. Chabad and JSoc provided everything from weekday Kosher meals to educational events, film showings, external speakers and festivities.

  • Why I was questioned by airport security in wake of Tel Aviv attacks

    The JC Blog
    Jun 14, 2016

    "So you recently went to Dubai," the Israeli security guard said as she peered suspiciously over her desk, while her male colleague looked me up and down as if I had just touched down from Syria.

    "Yes," I replied.

    I was at the end of my second trip to Israel, about to head home to London from Ben Gurion airport. I had visited Boys Town Jerusalem, a school for underprivileged children, for an assignment for the JC.

  • Being a French Jew - in London

    Le Blog Français
    Jun 10, 2016

    The views of a group of French Jews who are now living in London

    The first time Rabbi René Pfertzl told me about a “French Jewish blog”, I admit I hesitated. As with many French Jews, I’m fed up with all these articles speaking about “Les Juifs de France” as L’Express wrote on its front page a few months ago. For those of the readers who do not speak French and/or do not know L’Express, it means “ The Jews from France ” and L’Express is one of the most important weekly newspapers in France.

    Why am I stressing this point ? Because words are important. I’m not a “ Jew of France ”, but a French Jew. Writing about “Jews of France” simply means that Jews are not considered totally French. The media has some responsibility for the rising of antisemitism in France, writing articles and news only when there are some attacks or other tragic events between French Jews and French Muslims. But never when they are working or simply living together like anybody else. And this obviously happens very often.

  • After university how will I reconcile the religious life I grew up with and the one I adopted while away from home?

    Student Views
    Jun 7, 2016

    In 2014, a bunch of friends and I sat around on camp and discussed organising our own kehilah which would meet over Shabbat to daven, eat and hang out. The arguments were that larger communities aren’t good at empowering young people, don’t allow room for changing values and aren’t exciting social spaces where we want to spend a large chunk of the weekend.

    So we started meeting that summer, organising our own services, borrowing a torah generously lent by one of our rabbis, singing our own tunes carried over from our Noam days and spending long hours after lunch wandering around North West London between people’s houses. On a fairly regular basis we were still sitting round someone’s kitchen table when it was time for Havdallah.

    But on the other hand, I missed my shul. I may not always get to sing the tunes I like, hear drashot from friends or lead my favourite parts of Mussaf, but it’s still my shul – my community, the place where I grew up, where I know everyone and everyone knows me. Our new kehilah was fun and exciting, but I couldn’t sit next to my mum or hear my rabbi say something amazing, or join in the singing filling the Beit Knesset. Twenty voices just don’t have the same effect as two hundred. I couldn’t even complain about the bar mitzvah boy singing Anim Zemirot, because we didn’t have any bar mitzvah boys and we didn’t sing Anim Zemirot (because we all hate it).

  • Torah and cheesecake

    Simon Rocker
    Jun 3, 2016

    Next weekend we’ll be celebrating what a friend the other day referred to “the cheesecake festival”. While Shavuot remains probably remains the least observed of the five major festivals in the calendar, it has been undergoing a revival in recent years.

    More synagogues these days offer a nocturnal learning programme on the first night of the festival, a tikkun leil Shavout, a practice that originated with the kabbalists. In Israel, study programmes have even become fashionable among secular Jews.

    If you can’t make it to one of the organised events, you can always opt for a DIY alternative at home. Limmud has compiled an online Shavuot pack which you can simply download and print out for discussion among family or friends.

  • A list of football managers' woes

    The Arsenal Blog
    Jun 2, 2016

    Louis Van Gaal was his usual ebullient self in his final press conference as manager of Manchester United. But for once, I don't blame his stubborn self-defence. Angrily placing the lidless FA Cup on his desk, he thanked the media for “sacking me for six months”. The English media is a brutal machine. The endless rumour mill and constant criticism have driven many managers over the edge.

    To add to the manager’s woes, the impatience of the football fan has grown in recent years. To sack a manager who has won the FA Cup and come fifth in Premier League, as Jose would say, a ‘transitional period’, seems mad. But fans of the ‘world's biggest club’ have been calling for Van Gaal’s head since day one. Fan protests are so commonplace that it seems like a miracle when no banners are unveiled criticising the owners or the manager, or, often, both. Post-match analysis focuses more on the managers and the referee than the game itself.

    According to the League Manager’s Association, there is an endemic problem in British football. Arsene Wenger is the only long-serving manager left in the Premier League, after 20 years, more than 16 years longer than second place, Eddie Howe of Bournemouth. Watford have had five managers in the last 18 months alone, and Manchester United have struggled to hold down a head coach since the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson ended. Jose Mourinho has never been a long-term option for any club, and I don't suppose that United will be any different.