Ella Rose

Standing up and being counted

October 02, 2014 11:38

From 2011 to 2014, I attended the University of Nottingham - the university with the largest population of Jewish students in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

I, along with my peers, were openly Jewish on campus and I did not once personally experience antisemitism. That is not to say that antisemitism does not occur on campus.

Nevertheless, I believe that it is an incredible time to be a Jewish student on campus. Jewish students can, and do, create vibrant communities to suit individual students' wants and needs on their particular campus.

However, Jewish students, like all students, face challenges on campus. Facing challenges does not inhibit experience but provides for learning, development and growth.

We all know that antisemitism has spiked this summer. At the height of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the National Union of Students passed a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel) policy.

This new academic year will not be defined by Middle East politics

I am deeply disappointed that NUS has chosen this path, demonising one side in the Middle East conflict rather than engaging in constructive debate and discussion.

It is nearly universally accepted that many Jewish students have a connection to Israel, be that through their definition of their Jewish identity, as a place where friends or family reside, or simply as a holiday destination.

The NUS policy will not influence Jewish students leading Jewish lives on campus. The Union of Jewish Students has been democratically mandated to combat BDS on campus. If students do want to stand up against attempts to delegitimise the state of Israel, UJS will support them every step of the way.

UJS and Jewish students are determined that this academic year will not be defined by the politics of the Middle East. It will be defined by the lives that Jewish students choose to live on campus.

If antisemitism does rear its ugly head on campus, UJS, the wider Jewish community - and the NUS - will robustly condemn the perpetrators and take appropriate action to ensure that campuses remain a safe space.

People used to think that Jewish students were scared to be Jewish on campus. I am proud that this is no longer a perception. Last year, UJS ran J.E.W. (Jewish Experience Week), spearheaded by UJS's campaigns director, Maggie Suissa for which 200 students in bright yellow t-shirts walked around campus with "100% kosher" emblazoned on the back, explaining the Jewish religion and culture to more than 3,000 non-Jewish students.

This happened on over 30 campuses, in J-Socs that have just a handful of members but who are equally as proud to be Jewish as those on campuses with communities in the hundreds.

Jewish students are overwhelmingly proud to be Jewish on campus - loud and proud. They attend over 90 different academic institutions across the country and make a difference in every single one of them.

I'm immensely proud of the J-Soc committees and their leadership who strive tirelessly for the students on their campuses.

Take Leeds J-Soc for example, whose members fought to have kosher food in their union shop, which now stocks a wide range of fresh and dry produce. Manchester and Leeds students have pushed accommodation services to ensure students can live Jewish lives in halls according to their levels of observance. St Andrews has arranged for weekly deliveries of kosher food.

J-Soc committees lead the way for Jewish students, shaping and creating Jewish life on campus, and I am proud to have the honour to support and represent them.

All students face challenges, be it the cost of rent in London, the depressing prospect of the job hunt, or just having too many essays to do all at once. Jewish students are no exception, and NUS does some incredible work around a variety of these and other issues specifically faced by minority groups. A great example of this is their "degrees of discrimination" campaign.

Instead of characterising the campus world as a hotbed of antisemitism, we should be celebrating the inspiring work that Jewish student leaders are doing on campus and the amazing communities they are creating.

Sometimes there are tough times but UJS will always be there to support Jewish students to live Jewishly

October 02, 2014 11:38

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