Reform, Masorti and Liberal students need more religious support at university

Guest blogger Natasha Zack says many students are turned away from Orthodox-centric Jewish campus life

July 16, 2018 14:25

In three years at university, I attended as many Jewish events as I could. It was important to me to keep up throughout my student journey.

I had a positive experience. But I feel this was because I was brought up in a traditional Jewish household and used to the Orthodox surroundings. From speaking to friends about Jewish life at university, I noticed there isn’t a strong support for the Reform, Masorti or Liberal movements.

Every Shabbat there was an Orthodox service without fail, but only an egalitarian service at some specific festivals. It’s as if they’re treated as second best and not as an equal. Many students are turned away from Jewish campus life because they feel like there isn’t a place for them if they don’t hold orthodox values.

Susy Goldstone, a 20-year-old Reform student at Leeds University, says she didn’t find a religious place to go to for Reform Jews. “It’s quite disappointing given that so many Jews on campus aren’t Orthodox,” she tells me. She thoroughly enjoys Chabad every Friday night “because they are so welcoming of everyone” and has never felt uncomfortable there.

However she thinks life for non-Orthodox students will really benefit from “having a religious figure on campus who is Reform”. This would help in ways such as being more comfortable in first year.

She says the three rabbis on campus are “really great” but adds: “There’s not much difference between them in terms of their beliefs” and it would be lovely to be able to have someone there to answer a question in relation to Reform Judaism.

Nathalie Freedman, is a 20-year-old irreligious Orthodox student at Nottingham Trent University. She feels that “maybe there should be [egalitarian services] existing but as someone who isn’t religious I feel comfortable visiting chaplains where many non-religious people visit”.

However, despite admitting she feels comfortable, Nathalie thinks it’s “a shame for those who are egalitarian” that they don’t get as many options on campus. It may even be a good idea to have those options if students are confused to which movement they want to follow. Some Jewish students she knows aren’t interested at all in going to anything Jewish on campus. She thinks it’s possible the strong orthodox presence “could be intimidating to liberal.

Birmingham student Adam Cooper is 19 and an active member of RSY-Netzer, saying: “It’s a Jewish society not an Orthodox society.”

He feels it’s an issue that only Orthodox organisations come to speak to the students of Birmingham as it means that “people are being educated on only one side of Judaism and it somewhat shuts out the progressive opinion”.

He understands the reasoning behind the amount of Orthodox spaces, as most of the people there follow orthodoxy. Nonetheless, he feels that students are limited to “secondary school outlooks” on Judaism which could be causing a narrow view. They need to learn what “progressive Judaism is and give it a chance”.

The universities chaplain, Rabbi Daniel Lichman, works for reform and liberal Judaism, including the organisation Jeneration.

He tries to visit as many major campuses as possible to meet but agrees there isn’t enough representation. “I went to Visit Bristol and was chatting to a student who said ‘for the orthodox there is Chabad, Aish and Chaplaincy all living on university campus, then for progressive movements, there’s just you’,” he tells me.

He understands these students’ frustration and says how he’d “love to connect with more progressive students on campus” however, for the moment, “given the challenge, the best way to be effective is through student retreats… and Facebook Live streams on online classes such as being Jewish in a non-Jewish world”.

I think it’s become apparent from these students that there is nothing wrong with the Orthodox presence in and of itself on campus; however there is an issues with Orthodox Judaism being the only movement having an appearance. There’s currently little to no representation for other more liberal movements. This needs to change.

Natasha Zack completed a philosophy degree at Leeds in June

July 16, 2018 14:25

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