INTERVIEW - DAVID BROWN
Religious organisations that hold free events on campus are preventing students from developing a genuine commitment to Judaism and Israel, the executive director of the Union of Jewish Students has warned.
David Brown, who joined UJS in June, said groups offering these events were detracting from the work of campus Jewish societies.
He said: “The UJS believes that when you value something, you invest in it. You invest with your time, and as long as you are able, you invest with your money.
“When other things are happening on campus where you can turn up for free and do things and then get free trips here and there, it perpetuates a culture of free, which, I think, is really damaging to the long-term leadership of the community.”
Groups that organise free events for students include outreach organisations such as Aish and Chabad.
Speaking from the Union’s new base at JW3, the multi-million pound Jewish community centre for London, he said: “If we have a whole generation of people going through university where to be Jewish is just something you get given to you on a plate, then when it comes to things like JW3, you’re not necessarily going to value it and think that you need to invest in it.”
He believed that what he termed the “iGeneration” — young people who grew up building their own playlists on iTunes rather than accepting a pre-decided record listing — would ultimately reject organisations that tried to give them “a very clear idea of how you should or shouldn’t be Jewish”.
He said: “They might get people to take up their activities that they’re offering for free, but the students won’t develop a personal and genuine commitment to Judaism and Israel in the way you can in a cross-communal space, where you don’t push an agenda.”
He also warned that if such groups took students away from JSoc activities, resulting in JSocs no longer being seen as the centre of Jewish campus life, “then you’re leading to a more fragmented Jewish community”.
Mr Brown, who grew up in the Redbridge Jewish community and studied at Nottingham Trent University, was more optimistic about a different threat to Jewish life on campus — antisemitism.
He said: “I want to reassure every student, prospective student and parent that almost everywhere, almost all of the time, things are fine.
“When certain things happen in the Middle East there is a spike of activity that can sometimes bring to the fore elements and sentiments that make some Jews feel uncomfortable.
“But we are not seeing huge amounts of general antisemitism. There are a few incidents of graffiti here and there, a few sporadic incidents, but essentially it’s completely under control. I think there is a positive trend for the future.”
He cited unsuccessful anti-Israel motions tabled at National Union of Students conferences as an example of that trend.
“The really encouraging thing is they have consistently failed,” he said. “That shows good work by our students, but also by non-Jewish students who support our concerns.”