New year brings new opportunities for UJS
The New Year provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months while ensuring we look forward to challenges which lie ahead.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) is no different.
As the competition for university places becomes increasingly tough, Jewish students are missing out on their first choice universities – often those with large Jewish student populations.
As a result, we expect to see an increasing number of students choosing universities with a small or medium-sized Jewish Society or perhaps one with just a handful of Jewish students.
UJS must ensure that students on such campuses have access to kosher food and meaningful Jewish experiences as well as offering rapidly expanding JSocs.
We invest heavily in our JSoc development team whose remit is exclusively to support small and medium JSocs. We offer training for local committees on how to run successful events and our newly launched Food for Thought education programme allows JSocs to select from a range of engaging Jewish topics as well as a dinner menu.
In addition, UJS runs Shabbat UK, an annual initiative delivering Friday night meal packs and resources to the door of every Jewish student, regardless of where in Britain they study.
We ensure Jewish students from Aberdeen to Exeter have an opportunity to link up with others across the country at our national events such as the JUEFA Cup football tournament.
UJS recognises that Jewish students, like all others, are finding it increasingly difficult to find employment. We believe it is our responsibility to help them in their next step after university and so this year we will be hosting a number of career-based events including job application workshops, a career networking event and a summer internship programme.
The challenge that receives greater media coverage than anything is the delegitimisation of Israel on campus. UJS has worked tirelessly to educate non-Jewish student leaders about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, we are aware that more work needs to be done at a grassroots level. It is time that we set our own, pro-active, agenda on the situation rather than simply reacting to stunts performed by other groups.
At our annual Campaigns Summit the UJS team, along with Jewish student activists from all over the country, launched a "self-determination" campaign which will seek to educate students about the legitimate right of Jewish people to self-determination alongside all others.
UJS is always looking at ways to engage Jewish students who choose not to participate in mainstream Jewish student life. Our new education and programmes director will be piloting a Friday night hospitality programme allowing students to host their own satellite dinners, complementing official JSoc offerings.
Alex Dwek is UJS chair