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I will work to build bridges at university

First Person

November 24, 2016 23:21

Last week, JCoSS pupil Ella said she worried about leaving the "Jewish bubble" . Student Becky Collins, 18, attends a non-Jewish school and will leave for university in September. She says she will rise to the challenge of being a Jew on campus.

Is it safe to be a Jewish student at university today? I have been thinking about this question since accepting my place at university last month.

Recent antisemitism has highlighted how fragile it might feel to be a Jewish student at university. Mock checkpoints have been set up. Support for the BDS movement has risen. An increasing number of antisemitic remarks and insults have been voiced. So, are Jewish students more at risk than ever before?

For all of my school life, I have grown up in the multicultural world of north London, where being Jewish is neither remarkable nor remarked upon. Jews are just one of the many groups at school and in London.

Unlike my parents' generation, where the word "Jewish" was often used as a synonym for "stingy", I have not experienced any real antisemitism.

Israel seems to be like a lightning rod that draws all manner of protest

Of course, I may have been living in a "bubble". But I do think that my peers are more informed about Judaism.

At school, I have made a concerted effort to share my religion with non-Jews, explaining our many festivals, rituals and culinary delights. As co-chair of my school's Jewish Society, I have invited speakers to discuss the issue that generates most anti-Jewish feeling: the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Silence was not an option, and my co-chair and I felt that dialogue was the best way forward. Girls of all faiths attended our sessions and they were all eager to share their views. What struck me most was our willingness to deal with the issue head-on in a cordial and respectful manner.

My school may be unusual, but why does it seem that university will be so different?

Perhaps, for many students, it is the first opportunity to assert their own idealism. They find a larger platform to express their ideas and their intellectual journey is no longer confined to the classroom.

With a melting pot of extreme and different views, it is no surprise that opinions become controversial and polarised. What is surprising, however, is that, for university students, Israel seems to be like a lightning rod that draws all manner of protest.

Events at Oxford University, currently under investigation, are particularly disturbing. The claim by the former co-chair of Oxford Labour Club that many have "some kind of problem with Jews" shocked me. I never imagined that being Jewish would be such an issue in the 21st Century.

I admit, on hearing this news, I did begin to worry about university.

I worried about how to accurately defend Israel, while remaining an objective critic of the Israeli government. I worried about whether I would be solely defined by my religion and not by my actions or words. I also worried about retaining my faith when the world around me seems to be pulling away from organised religion. I am not alone in these concerns.

However, I am excited to be able to study in-depth a subject that I am passionate about, to meet new people from across the country - even the world, and to find my own feet.

I don't know whether it will be safe or not to be a Jewish student. Nor do I know what my time at university will bring. But I do know that I am proud of being Jewish, and I will work hard to build bridges across the divide.

I am very much looking forward to going to university and, whatever happens, I know it will be an amazing experience.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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