Comment: Time to leave the ghetto

By Roseanna Lewis, January 21, 2010

University is all about meeting people and gaining an understanding of other cultures. But are the large groups of Jewish students at universities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham really gaining all they can from the experience?

I have enjoyed my time at Birmingham so far, but I feel the number of Jewish students here could turn from a positive to a negative.

There are a few options for accommodation in your first year. You can live off campus at Hillel, which is good for some, but immediately isolates you from all non-Jewish freshers.

On campus all the halls of residence provide kosher flats for those who want to integrate with others while keeping a kosher home. The final option — which I chose — was to be in a regular halls flat.

I had amazing flatmates who respected my beliefs and did not use my pots and pans or cook group food with any ingredients I couldn’t eat. My experience was extremely positive and my housemates learnt a lot about my Jewish beliefs.

Not all of my course friends had met a Jew before. One of my now closest friends asked me if I carried a dreidel around when I told her I was.

These experiences help you create a bond and it becomes a learning curve for everyone. But socialising exclusively with Jews means others have little opportunity to learn more about us.

A growing number of Jewish students arrive at uni straight from year course, having attended Jewish primary and secondary schools. They then choose a university-provided kosher flat.

You might think this is a great way to begin uni life. The problem is that these students are not integrating fully into multi-cultural university society. Many only socialise with Jews, avoiding non-Jewish students wherever possible.

I know one student in a kosher flat who asked one living with non-Jews if she was scared of her flatmates.

By not mixing, Jewish students are not only missing out on part of the university experience but are also becoming socially ill-equipped for the world outside the campus bubble.

Another problem is the hierarchy developing among Jewish students themselves. I feel pressured to fulfil certain criteria. I am constantly asked: Do you attend all JSoc events? Did you go on year course? Are the majority of your friends Jewish? Do you eat exclusively kosher meat?

If your answer is ‘no’ to two or more of these questions you can find yourself largely excluded from the Jewish student community.

At a Hillel event my friend was approached and asked where she lived in London. She replied: “Edgware.” Her questioner responded: “Well I live in Hampstead.” She then walked off.

Instead of uniting we are dividing. I have found myself going to fewer JSoc parties and Hillel events because of the judgemental atmosphere. On Yomtov my friends gathered together at someone’s house, rather than go to the JSoc service at Hillel. We simply felt we would not be welcome.

Everyone has a different university experience, but are our Jewish students really gaining all they can from the higher education experience?

Roseanna is studying Classics. She is 19 and from Mill Hill, north west London

Last updated: 11:32am, January 21 2010


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