Isolated Israelis seek closer links with British students

By Charlotte Oliver, January 31, 2014
Participants at the conference (Photo: Raya Cottrell)

Participants at the conference (Photo: Raya Cottrell)

A major effort is under way to integrate Israeli students into university Jewish societies in the UK.

More than 65 Israelis attended a conference in London to discuss how to forge better links with young British Jews.

World Zionist Organisation (WZO) emissary Nir Cohen said: “We want to provide a platform for Israeli students so that they can connect with each other and the wider Jewish community.

“But we also want to reveal the many faces of Israel — those that have nothing to do with political conflict, such as our arts, culture and sciences”

Mr Cohen was speaking after the inaugural Israeli Students Conference, organised by the WZO in partnership with the Israeli embassy, Israeli House, Jewish Agency and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

Sessions, which included speeches by the Israeli deputy ambassador to the UK Eitan Naeh, advisers from the Israeli embassy’s cultural department and representatives from Tel Aviv University in Israel, covered the challenges affecting Israelis in the UK .

Though there are more than 1,000 Israeli students living here, based in more than 25 universities, they have remained largely separate from Jewish life on campus — either because they are unaware of events on the ground or remain reluctant to take part. Most are studying for masters degrees and PhDs and have already completed their army service, and so are significantly older than the average university student.

But participants at the conference expressed a desire to get more involved with their campus Jewish societies.

Mr Cohen said the conference had provided a “home away from home” for students who often feel disconnected from their own culture, especially when based in universities where no one else speaks Hebrew.

“The event aimed to provide networks so that students can share advice and get together for Friday-night dinners, and also get closer to the Jewish community,” he said. “We also spoke about revealing more about Israel to the wider student population by offering conversational Hebrew classes and events on campus.

UJS president Joe Tarsh said that his organisation was “placing greater emphasis on supporting niche communities of students”. The conference was “a great step in a larger process of developing the greater Jewish student community”, he said.

Last updated: 3:01pm, January 31 2014