Jewish students lead the way for charitable work

How Jewish students are raising the bar with social action projects and charity links


On your bike: Rabbi YY Rubinstein, Joe Bronstein and Sacha Stout

On your bike: Rabbi YY Rubinstein, Joe Bronstein and Sacha Stout

Jewish student organisations are leading the way as campuses become a focal point for charity work and volunteering projects.

They are increasingly taking part in social action programmes to give something back to communities in the towns and cities where they study.

The Union of Jewish Students launched its One campaign earlier this year, using Jewish values to encourage social activism and train members for involvement with a range of charitable efforts and apply for grants to help make a difference on their campuses.

In July, Jeneration, the pluralist initiative, is leading a trip to Kenya, working with a conservation and development group to encourage students to learn more about community-building projects.

Daniel Heller won UJS' annual social action award for his efforts at Nottingham University.

He said: "I saw social action work as a good way to get interfaith groups working together. It was good common ground and we could work to help other people by doing charity collections in the Student Union.

"When it came to the Haiti earthquake everyone came together and for a week people were very generous with their time and money.

"I know a lot of Jewish students in Nottingham are working in the local community in schools and doing sponsored runs. However the majority continue to get involved in JSoc rather than specific charity work."

Last month Manchester JSoc held a 14-mile sponsored bike ride to raise money for its nominated charity, Langdon College, which supports young Jewish adults with learning difficulties. More than £1,000 was collected.

The JSoc hopes to raise enough money to buy a minibus for the college and will use its annual ball in December to raise further funds.

Joe Bronstein, Manchester JSoc's social action officer, said: "We also do volunteering at the college. A few of us go along to their community night on Wednesday evenings. We might take the students on a trip or just socialise. It's really nice.

"Our members also volunteer at a Christian soup kitchen in the city on Sunday nights. In the past there hasn't been much interaction or an effort to make a link with other communities in the city, but we wanted to establish links. It gives us something to build on for the future."

But does he think JSocs are making a conscious attempt to change the stereotype of apathetic students?

"It depends on the person. There are lots of students who do laze around but my personal approach is to make the most of the opportunity to go out there and help. It's very rewarding."

In Oxford, Jewish students are taking part in a project working with a charity which provides food, shelter and companionship to homeless people in the city.

A team made up of students from both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University meet weekly to participate in Take Action with your Chaplain, under the stewardship of chaplain Hannah Braune Friedman.

They work with the Gatehouse charity, visiting its centre to make dinner for homeless people. The project began earlier this year and attracts a diverse group of students, many of whom do not attend traditional JSoc events.

Second-year student Ilana Kosky said: "This has been an extremely fulfilling extra-curricular activity. Homelessness is something with which we are confronted daily in Oxford. It is a small city and we see the same people every day on the streets, without having the capacity to do very much about it.

"This project has given us the opportunity to do something proactive for the community in which we live, and to address an issue that is very relevant to us. It doesn't take long to prepare one meal a week but it makes a huge difference."

Individual students are also using their initiative to set up stand-alone events.

In March, Jonathan Plein coordinated UNIAID, a concert run by and for students at Nottingham University. He hired DJs, student bands and collaborated with a nightclub to put on the event.

More than 500 people attended, raising around £500 for charities which work to help local communities and hospitals and educate children in Cambodia.

Jonathan said: "I always wanted to do something big for charity and a student concert seemed the most feasible way."

Leonie Lewis, Jewish Volunteering Network director, said: "We have evidence that students are seen to be a terrific source of volunteers. Indeed more than 25 per cent of our registered volunteers are of student age.

"Students enjoy charity work and also see it as a way into the employment market, creating new friendships and developing social networks.

"They make a significant difference to community life and gain immense skills and satisfaction."

Richard Verber, UJS development director, added: "We are very proud of the volunteer work Jewish students do. By designing new programmes and sharing what has been achieved, students inspire others to get involved too."

    Last updated: 2:20pm, May 6 2010