Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • How can recent atrocities in France not be religiously motivated?

    Le Blog Français
    Jul 20, 2016

    How can the French Left, including President Hollande, insist that terrorists who kill civilians while crying “Allah Akbar” are not motivated by religion [“ça n’a rien à voir”]? This astonishing paradox is explored by Jean Birnbaum, editor of the newspaper Le Monde’s book section, in a compelling essay "A Religious Silence" ["Un Silence Religieux", Seuil, 2015]. Eighteen months and several murderous attacks later, public discourse has evolved but denial is still an issue.

    Birnbaum’s book was born of the Charlie Hebdo and HyperCasher attacks in January 2015 as specialists in different disciplines found an extraordinary range of non-religious explanations; foreign policy geeks, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, demographers, techies and communications specialists identified the killers as products of Western imperialism, pathologically violent, fragile personalities, children of problematic suburbs, inspired by humanitarian NGOs, suffocating in an aging society, unduly exposed to internet, or simply seeking media stardom.

    The paradox, Birnbaum argues, can best be understood through the prism of Algeria’s war of independence (1954-62) which marked an entire generation of French intellectuals engaged alongside the National Liberation Front (FLN). The FLN was seen as a revolutionary movement throwing off the yoke of colonial oppression on behalf of a weak and disenfranchised native population. With Marxism struggling to progress in the West and Stalinism in the East, hopes were high for the Left in Algeria.

  • The reality is that most students just don’t care

    Student Views
    Jul 19, 2016

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

    Earlier in June, Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, came to speak at the Oxford Union. I had just one question for him.

    “Ken, do you ‘just hate the Jews in Israel’?”, I asked him, trying to maintain composure. I was referencing the comments he recently made in an ill-conceived attempt to distance himself from ‘real antisemites’. Unsurprisingly, Ken didn’t even deny the claim, and just rambled on about how Israeli politics has deteriorated in recent years.

  • 2016 has been the year of the sporting underdog

    The Arsenal Blog
    Jul 15, 2016

    Euro 2016 confirmed this year to be the year of the underdog. Leicester City conquered the Premier League, and Iceland and Wales, with a combined population 5% that of England, progressed to the quarter and semi-finals respectively. So what makes 2016 so good for the smaller teams? What has given the underdogs a chance to win the race?

    This year we have seen the years-long elite party coming to an end. The big boys club enjoyed their time at the top, but, like any bored party member with money to waste, they drank too much and partied too hard. This season of football has been the hangover finally catching up with them.

    England's astonishing failure at the European Championships is a case in point. They have repeatedly taken their ability for granted; scraping through to the latter rounds major competitions only by relying on raw talent. But with the increasing pool of footballing talent, they have been left behind. They were lulled into a false sense of security by the so called ‘golden generation’ of David Beckham and co, and by the time Roy Hodgson, a diplomatic and ineffectual choice for England manager, had arrived, the foundations were already crumbling. The talent had run out, and suddenly organisation and tactics were desperately needed. But we'd spent so much time drinking cocktails that we'd forgotten to eat.

  • During university I was my most wild, carefree and joyful

    Student Views
    Jul 14, 2016

    When I finished school, we had a dramatic valedictory assembly which involved being paraded in front of the staff and parents, having our university destinations triumphantly announced and singing the school hymn. Afterwards we processed out and I wept. Looking back, I’m not sure why – I didn’t particularly enjoy school and I don’t remember being sorry to leave.

    On the other hand, I completely loved university, and in particular my college, which felt more and more like home each term. During university I was my most wild, carefree and joyful, because at no other time can one really stay up until three in the morning on a Thursday with friends, drinking cheap cider, watching absurd YouTube videos and filming extraordinarily complex Snapchat stories. I’ll probably never have the chance to just mess around without repercussions ever again, and I find that very distressing. And yet, at my graduation three weeks ago, I did not shed a tear.

    At no point have I found myself particularly overwhelmed or emotional about graduating, which I feel, for me, is quite unusual. I had expected myself to be low, grumpy and unproductive during these weeks, longing for Cambridge and my old rhythm which kept me motivated, and my friends who I would giggle with until the wee small hours. But I’m actually feeling pretty fresh and bouncy, and I’ve been sending off all sorts of application forms and researching masters courses and travel plans for next year, and I’ve spent lots of time with home friends and with my parents. If anything, I’m busier and more cheerful now than I was during my last weeks of uni.

  • Moving out of (or in to) the Jewish bubble

    Student Views
    Jul 12, 2016

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

    Being Jewish, I’m constantly running into family friends. Being about to go to university, the small talk is fairly predictable:

    Where are you going to uni? (Oxford) Your parents must be so proud! (They are) Are you excited? (Yes) Are you nervous? (Yes) Oh you’ll make friends.

  • What to do about intermarriage?

    Simon Rocker
    Jul 7, 2016

    When the Institute for Jewish Policy Research launched its report on marriage this week, there was surprise among the audience.

    Although the intermarriage rate, at 26 per cent, has reached an all-time in the UK, many had expected it to be higher. If it has not quite plateaued, it has risen only slightly in the past couple of decades.

    There has been an assumption that where American Jewry goes, British Jewry eventually follows. So if the American intermarriage rate has stood at over 50 per cent for some time, it led to the belief that the UK would not be so far off now. (Important differences remain between the two communities, however: British Jewry is more Orthodox and traditional and has a much higher proportion of Charedim).

  • Are we, as Jews, doomed to a love of learning?

    Student Views
    Jul 5, 2016

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

    How do I write a blog about my student life after the academic year has ended? Well, pretty much ended, anyway. I submitted my last assignment for this year two weeks ago, for which I will not receive the courtesy of a mark until about mid-August. Ish. Ten weeks, give or take the odd week or two. Roughly. Not because we are on Jew-ish time, which is vague enough at the best of times, but because we are running on something even more nebulous than JMT: Open University Time.

    This, it transpires only after you have enrolled and committed the next six years of your life to them, is an entirely separate realm of mathematics, that is only slightly harder to understand than quantum physics. The Open University is a very strange world. You are both surrounded by colleagues - at seminars, study days, Facebook groups and course module online chatrooms - and completely and utterly alone - sat at home surrounded by books, with no one to talk to, little structure to speak of, guidance or support.

  • The upsides - and downsides - of avoiding a 'Jewniversity'

    Student Views
    Jun 28, 2016

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

    When all of my friends from back home went to ‘Jewniversities’, I chose Durham. My Jewish identity was strong enough that I didn’t need to be surrounded by them for my entire university life; I wanted to branch out, meet new people beyond the world I have always known, try something new. Right?

    On my first Friday night there, my parents called to wish me a Shabbat Shalom, and I didn’t even realise it was Friday; it just seemed like any other day of the week. I was shocked at myself. We aren’t especially religious; I hardly expected myself to be lighting candles, but I thought I’d have at least remembered, that something deep rooted within me would have been activated. I was wrong. At a university where the average turnout for JSoc is 20 people, where almost none of the people in my halls had even met a Jew before me, and where educated, intelligent people actually believe the stereotypes that I thought had been left behind in Nazi Germany, it is difficult to maintain my Jewish identity.

  • The dark suburbs of Paris, the City of Light

    Le Blog Français
    Jun 24, 2016

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

    I remember the tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, my heart sank and my legs suddenly felt weak. There were three people facing me, and another twenty in the background. “Give us 10 Francs!” the person right in front of me said. I didn’t even manage to mutter that I didn’t have anything when a couple of punches found their way to my nose. A shot of adrenaline, blood and tunnel vision followed but as I crossed the road to escape the scrum I managed to get a glance of my four schoolmates, all against the wall, surrounded by the pack. As I had a wider view of the scene, I also saw that from the corner of this block, more people were coming, running towards us to get some “action”. Horror was inevitable. Only by a sheer stroke of luck did a school parent happen to pass by, swing the doors of her car open, and manage to get all five of us in the back seat.

    It was 1997 in a suburb north of Paris: I was 17 years old and it was the last time I wore my kippa in public.