Whilst walking home from university yesterday, I was discussing this blog with my friend Adam and mentioned that I needed some inspiration. His amazing idea of what to discuss? “Just talk about me!” After some choice words and quizzical looks, I eventually figured out that he did actually have a reasonable topic suggestion. So, Adam Ellis, this one’s for you.
“There is nothing that makes me prouder than wearing my kippah around campus.” During my impromptu interview with Adam, this was one of the first things he said to me. For him, it allows him an opportunity to be an advocate for Israel and to stand up for what he believes in, “in a diplomatic and calm way”.
Additionally, he discussed the concept of Kiddush Hashem: sanctifying the name of God. For Adam, and many others, outwardly displaying their Judaism means that they know other people are watching them. Almost everyone seems to be met with a natural curiosity when people find out their religion. As I discussed in one of my first articles, I am often met on campus with the exclamation of “I’ve never met a Jew before!” This means that I know my behaviour reflects onto other Jews, and for a lot of people, they enjoy knowing it allows them to have a positive impact both within society and on campus.
For me, however, this thought is not one that instinctively fills me with positivity.The idea of knowing others are watching me and potentially judging a whole religion based on my actions alone, scares me.This is a fear that Adam also vocalised: “Am I scared people will misjudge? The honest answer is yes. All I want to do is give Jewish people a good name… but ultimately there are times you need to fight for what you believe in.”
Both of us understand the inherent need to stand up for yourself and your beliefs, even on campus, seeing a key contrast between “passive and active resistance to antisemitism”.I have always said that it is impossible to argue without facts, a point that Adam echoes, saying that if he could give one piece of advice to those going to university or facing prejudice in the workplace, it would be to read and educate themselves.He also feels it’s important to understand that “not every conversation is an attack”; sometimes people are genuinely just curious.
One of the final things I spoke to Adam about was whether he would recommend other religious people to come to a "Jewni" - a University with a large Jewish cohort. He said that he felt that it was incredibly important not just for religious people, but that each person went to a university they felt suited them. Whether they needed the academic challenge of Oxbridge or the Jewish community of Birmingham, it is important to find a university your heart is in. That said, he did comment on the special pride he felt for those “heroes” who can go to places without a large Jewish community and still maintain their Jewish identity.
It is clear that for Adam and many other religious Jews, wearing a kippah allows him to have a positive impact through his religion, and to try to make a difference. He can connect to a wide variety of people around him, and spread the positivity of Judaism. For me, this is most poignantly reflected in the final thing he said to me during our chat. “University is a safe place to study and express my Judaism, in Birmingham”. I concur Adam, I concur.
Orli West is in her second year at Birmingham University where she is studying Education.