Asha Sumroy has just entered her first year at Durham University, where she is studying Sociology. She is a member of Maidenhead Reform Synagogue. She is one of the finalists in our search for a new student blogger for the JC:
With just over three weeks before I moved into my halls at Castle (University) College, Durham, I impulse booked a return flight to Israel and an Airbnb in the Nachlaot neighbourhood in Jerusalem. It's now only really a matter of days until freshers week and I’m alone at my favourite table in my favourite cafe in downtown Jerusalem. You could say I’m in denial about starting university, but I think it's more that I’ve never more wanted to grasp all of the time I can and spend it in the places I really love.
Having spent eight months of the past year on Netzer Olami (the worldwide Reform Zionist youth movement)’s gap year programme in Israel - it feels really right, and definitely like home, to be back here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to go to an amazing university to study a subject that I think is extremely important and relevant. But on top of the expected nerves for Fresher’s (especially after a gap year.. like, how do I make friends with people who haven’t also spent months on a kibbutz?!), I’m really apprehensive about how I can continue to be an intentional, progressive Jew and reform Zionist in the UK and, moreover, on a campus with a relatively low Jewish population (currently estimated at around 50 by the Jsoc).
I can’t shake the rather amusing image of being out on the Friday night of freshers week, sending messages to a whatsapp group we made after coming home from Israel to discuss our ideas and feelings on the Torah portion for that week, in parallel with a weekly commentary on ethics by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. (It may or may not be called “Woke Torah Study”, with an array of emojis that perfectly summarise being a young, progressive, Reform Zionist). I just hope no one sees it over my shoulder at the bar!
Sitting here in Jerusalem, drinking coffee on a 35 degree September afternoon, all I know is that I’m determined to continue letting my progressive Jewish values lead me at university. And that's whether this means burning money on train rides to and from London to lead RSY Netzer’s Course Hadracha (a leadership programme for chanichim once they return from Israel Tour), or committing myself to a quiet 20 minutes every Saturday to read some of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry, as my way of observing Shabbat.
Whatever the reality ends up being, I’m sure it will make for interesting reading and maybe even open up the conversation for more students on just how funny, and amazing, it can be to create an intentionally Jewish life at university.