Bristol resurgence brings Hillel back to city

By Anna Sheinman, May 9, 2013
Students from Bristol JSoc enjoy a Lag B'Omer celebration

Students from Bristol JSoc enjoy a Lag B'Omer celebration

A new Hillel House is to open in Bristol, providing kosher accommodation for students in the city for the first time in eight years.

The last Hillel closed in 2005 due to low demand, but a surge in Jewish students applying to universities in Bristol has driven the demand for kosher housing.

Bristol University Jewish Society president Evie Taylor said: “I think it will be great, it will make life much easier. It is quite a struggle to be kosher without a Hillel.”

The seven-bedroom property, which will open in September ready for the new academic year, is close to the main university facilities and surrounded by other Freshers’ halls of residence and accommodation.

Ms Taylor said: “It’s right by the library on the university campus and a five-minute walk to the Triangle, which is where the majority of the Freshers’ clubs are”.

After the closure of the last Hillel, UJS opened a non-residential student centre in 2006. The Ark and Dove serves as a base for JSoc and has a kosher kitchen which provides meals for events and festivals.

There has since been a rise in the number of Jewish students in the city. In 2009 JSoc signed up 100 new students during Freshers’ Week, a significant rise compared to previous years.

The figure dropped in 2010 and 2011, with only around 30 new members each year, but rose again last year to 65. Neither UJS nor Bristol JSoc can explain exactly why numbers have increased since the mid-2000s, but it is thought Bristol University’s rise in the university league tables could be partly responsible.

The JSoc believes it now has a membership of around 80 Jewish students. Ms Taylor, a first-year English student from London, said the society had kept its friendly, intimate atmosphere: “I know everyone in the JSoc. It’s got a real family feel and that’s something we’d like to retain.

“The new incoming Freshers will mean we have even more Jewish students here than previously.”

She said the society had tailored events to members’ needs and requests, meaning an eclectic range of events from a “Nosh and Natter” session on Judaism and economics to a Purim house party.

One of the most successful events was a “Chocolate Seder” games night, held just before Pesach.

“We had a cream egg for the egg, the ‘shortbread of affliction’ and a Ferrero ‘Pharaoh’ Rocher,” explained Ms Taylor.

The new kosher accommodation has been arranged with the backing of UJS Hillel, whose director Gerry Lucas warned of possible difficulties ahead.

He said: “The maintenance of kashrut could be a challenge, particularly in an area where kosher food is not readily available in any great choice or variety.”

To get around this, UJS will organise deliveries of kosher food to the Ark and Dove, from where students will collect items. Hillel and University Jewish Chaplaincy will draw up guidelines and agreements for residents relating to observing kashrut.

Last updated: 9:02am, May 9 2013