Amid the failures, bright hopes for future on campus
It would be easy to highlight the antisemitic attack which left a young Jew with a broken nose on a student union ski trip as evidence of another depressing and desperate year for Jewish students.
But the past nine months have been a period of relative calm on campuses, albeit one peppered with occasional serious incidents acting as reminders of the constant threat of racism and extremism.
The academic year began with a jaw-dropping campaign launch from the Union of Jewish Students. Liberation was to be a “radical, progressive” project, with the union handing out Palestinian flags alongside Israeli ones — a move which understandably drew a mixed reaction from the Jewish community.
In reality, the campaign made little impact on campuses, with many individual JSocs choosing not to implement the strategy. Basing an entire year of campaigns around a project which was intended to sound “like a Socialist Workers Party” campaign was always going to be a dangerous tactic, and so it proved.
UJS president Dan Grabiner and campaigns director Dan Sheldon saw their big idea fizzle out, leaving them to limp through much of the rest of the year. Potential plans raised last summer never materialised, and it is hard to see Liberation as having had any effect other than to derail UJS’s wider projects for the year.
The return of the UJS Conference in Leeds last December was a welcome step, however. More than 150 students attended the event to elect representatives, work in policy forums, and promote all that is good about Jewish life on campus.
The work done by UJS’s outgoing development director, Richard Verber, to encourage students to join the Board of Deputies was also refreshing. Further success came with Rachel Wenstone’s election as an NUS vice-president.
UJS president-elect Alex Green will now be hoping things remain peaceful enough to allow him to get to work on the much-needed social reforms of the union.
He has pledged to concentrate on improving post-graduate employment prospects, set up an alumni mentoring scheme and help disabled students, all while making the union more inclusive of non-religious, non-traditional students. He faces a hard task, but one that will win much support.
There was a clear high-point in the year: the biggest Jewish Society fundraising initiative ever undertaken on a British campus. Students from Nottingham JSoc took part in the remarkable 100 for 100 campaign, raising more than £11,000.
Organisers Rebecca Schapira, Dan Clyne and Sarah-Jayne Grahame said they had wanted to encourage fellow students to join in creative and innovative fundraising initiatives.
What they achieved went further still, and their success led students from around the country to set up similar schemes. It was an unparalleled success and a sparkling fillip for the future.
This year saw Liberal Judaism take a bold step in installing Rabbi Ariel Friedlander as its new chaplain. The University Jewish Chaplaincy’s teams of rabbis and rebbetzins also continued their dedicated work.
As the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s National Jewish Student Survey revealed in October, students are concerned about defending Israel, but are equally worried about the direction of Anglo-Jewry and communal leaders, and even more so about their own job prospects.
If a peaceful wind blows in from the Middle East, and as ever that is a big if, then students will continue to concentrate on issues closer to home in 2012-13.