New dawn for South Coast society

By Katie Taylor, October 22, 2010
Ben Salamon and Max Edwards promote Exeter JSoc during Freshers’ Week

Ben Salamon and Max Edwards promote Exeter JSoc during Freshers’ Week

A revolution is taking place at one of the country's most remote Jewish societies.

Hundreds of miles from universities in the Midlands and north of England which have attracted Jewish students for decades, Exeter JSoc is enjoying a resurgence under the stewardship of new president Ben Salamon and campaigns and publicity officer Max Edwards.

The two-man committee has taken on the task of running the society for the next 12 months.

Ben, 19, and from Cardiff, said: "I am now in my second year and I wanted to get involved with the JSoc, mainly to keep in touch with Jewish life. Our JSoc is so small that it is easy to get involved at a big level if you are enthusiastic.

"Max and I are on our own because everyone on the committee last year has now graduated. However, we are looking for people to take on other roles such as vice-president and treasurer."

The society currently has 43 members. Ben said: "We have found this year that as many as half our members are non-Jewish students who are simply interested in finding out more about Judaism."

Although small, Exeter's Jewish community, which has one of the oldest synagogues in the country, lends a hand.

Ben said: "It's a tiny community but during Freshers' Week they organised a service and Friday night meal for all the new and old students.

"We are also supported by chaplain Moshe Baron. We don't officially have our own chaplain, so we borrow Rabbi Baron from Bristol. He visits us a couple of times a term.

"Last time he brought free falafel which was nice. He also gives us talks and he will soon be visiting us for a mezuzah-making day.

"UJS are very supportive. We receive funding from them and they are always at the end of the phone if needed."

Despite the small size of the JSoc and the relatively low number of Jews on campus, there is occasional adversity.

Ben said: "Whenever we do an Israeli-themed event we have to be careful how we advertise it. Friends of Palestine are a big group at the university and last year we got heckled at the Freshers' fair, although this year it was ok."

Matt Keston, UJS Central development officer, said: "When any JSoc, especially one as small and remote as Exeter, faces opposition we go down to the talks with them for support.

"We campaign against what the opposition is saying and ask questions to open up what is being said in the debate."

This semester JSoc events will include regular Friday night meals, a talk by a Chabad rabbi and a Chanucah party with fireworks. Jewish students will also take part in Mitzvah Day next month.

Ben added: "We want to do something to help the community as they have been so supportive and we want to give something back. The synagogue is very old so we want to help maintain it, perhaps by repainting the walls."

Sara Doron, a former Exeter JSoc president who graduated in the summer, said the society is in good hands: "Ben and Max are two of the most dedicated members I've ever had the pleasure of working with. Their commitment and drive to make the JSoc their own and turn it into something really special fills me with pride and relief.

"I have no doubt that under their leadership, the JSoc will go from strength to strength this year."

Last updated: 3:38pm, November 1 2010