Family & Education

Comment: The campus where Jewish life flourishes


When The Pianist screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood presented a lecture at Southampton University last September, he explained how he did not choose to write about the Holocaust; it chose him.

Most members of Southampton University's Jewish Society would explain their identity in a similar vein. Unlike other small JSocs they do not feel neglected on campus; Judaism finds them. While there is only a small Jewish presence in the city, Jewish identity and culture is thriving.

The Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations is based at the university, and ensures Jewish history and culture continues to be taught.

Guest speakers such as Will Self and Lord Robert Winston regularly draw large crowds. Engaging talks this year have included Dr Devorah Baum's theoretical discussion of Jewish Guilt, and Professor Joachim Schlor's lecture on Modern Photography in Tel Aviv.

Undergraduate humanities students have the opportunity to study modules in topics such as modern Israel, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Holocaust literature. These are popular and often oversubscribed modules.

The Parkes Institute outreach department organises Holocaust Memorial Day events each year, which students help plan.

The students' union is one of seven in the country unaffiliated to the National Union of Students. Without NUS regulations the union has a general 'no politics' rule. While many students perceive this negatively, disruptive sit-in protests against Israel or boycott motions are banned from student life.

In the past boycotts have been discussed among certain groups on campus, but the rule ensures that this cannot happen on a widescale basis and there is no threatening anti-Israel or antisemitic feeling.

Walk around the campus and you will hear students talking positively about Jews. From discussions about Portnoy's Complaint to governmental white papers concerning Israel, Judaism is always on the minds of many students.

Students from all faiths are welcome at JSoc Shabbat meals, and in recent months attendees who have come from diverse backgrounds in China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have experienced a traditional Shabbat meal.

JSoc president Mehrdad Amirian moved to England from Iran five years ago and is keen to broaden the events in the JSoc calendar. Joint events with other religious groups are successful.

Southampton has no kosher facilities, the local Orthodox synagogue struggles to get a Shabbat minyan, and the number of practicing Jews living in the city is minimal. Yet while the religious practice of Judaism may not be particularly high, Jewish culture continues to soar at the university, with its wide range of academic and social outlets helping to further Jewish learning and interfaith relations.

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