New Cambridge Union president leans on Masorti experience

By Anna Sheinman, May 2, 2013
Cambridge Union president Joel Fenster

Cambridge Union president Joel Fenster

The new president of the prestigious Cambridge Union debating society is trying to decide what will be harder: a term as Union president, or being the head of a Noam camp for the first time this summer.

“Probably Union president,” decides Joel Fenster. “I’ve only been at Cambridge two years — at Noam I feel like everyone gets 10 years of training to be a rosh (leader).”

Currently in his second year studying politics and social sciences at Selwyn College, Mr Fenster has organised an impressive line-up of debates and speakers.

Alongside household names like musician-comedian Tim Minchin, former Friends star Lisa Kudrow and model and Cambridge graduate Lily Cole, Joel and his team have two debates scheduled on the Middle East, Iran and Israel.

The Palestinian Authority’s UK envoy Manuel Hassassian will give a lecture. He follows Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub, who spoke at the end of last term.

Mr Fenster, 20, said: “He and the Israeli ambassador are both speakers whose perspectives you don’t often hear. You hear what the media tries to call a balanced idea of it. This is a Palestinian voice rather than what the media thinks a Palestinian voice should be.”

Noam, the Masorti youth group, gave him valuable skills for the role. He said: “Everything I’ve done here in Cambridge is a reflection of the skills I learned from Noam. Managing people, managing a team, just knowing how to interact in that professional setting, it definitely taught me a lot.”

A former JFS student, Mr Fenster said he had also learned a lot from his work with grassroots advocacy group Yachad; he co-founded their student wing which organises conferences and speaker events at universities.

He explained: “The Union and Yachad in a sense have quite similar ideologies: both are about bringing every perspective to the table.”

Mr Fenster, from Stanmore, north west London, is not the first Jewish president of the Union — in fact he is the third in a row, something he believes is no coincidence. It may be “a sense of not taking success for granted,” he said, as well as a sense of community and supporting others.

He said: “I would never have dared to run for the Presidency barely a year after arriving at university had the Jewish Society not made me feel at home from the moment I arrived in Cambridge.”

Last updated: 10:15am, May 2 2013