UJS celebrates its centenary today, and we feel blessed

Eight pioneering Jewish student societies founded the Jewish Inter-University Association of Great Britain and Ireland in 1919

June 27, 2019 13:30

Lately, instead of the traditional Jewish birthday blessing, Ad Meah v’Esrim, “May you live to 120”, one sometimes hears Ad Meah k’Esrim, “To 100, like 20”. May you live a long life, yet retain youthful vigour and avoid the plagues of old age.

The Union of Jewish Students has undoubtedly been blessed Ad Meah k’Esrim: at its centenary UJS is as passionate, practical and proudly Jewish as it was in 1919.

Eight pioneering Jewish student societies (JSocs) founded the Jewish Inter-University Association of Great Britain and Ireland in 1919, seeking to “give full weight to Jewish educated opinion in the great problems that lie before us”. Indeed, the Inter-University Jewish Federation, as it was quickly renamed, campaigned boldly and successfully on era-defining issues.

IUJF members raised today’s equivalent of £80,000 to help students seeking refuge from the Nazis. In 1966 they led 15,000 youth in silent protest against oppression of Soviet Jewry. And when the far right surfaced on campuses in 2002, UJS (thus renamed in 1973) partnered with the National Union of Students on ‘Racism Tears Britain Apart’.

Present commitments to combatting left- and right-wing extremism include partnering with the Holocaust Educational Trust and Jewish Labour Movement, and training student activists from diverse backgrounds to combat antisemitism and wider discrimination.

UJS has also long been a leader in combatting efforts to demonise and delegitimise Israel. Following the infamous United Nations Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism, the membership converged to protest attempts to ban JSocs from Sunderland Polytechnic (1977) to Manchester (1990).

Since the BDS movement emerged in 2005, UJS has led Jewish students and allies to challenge it through proactive campaigns as well as arguing against BDS policy proposals in students’ unions.

But the relationship between UJS and Israel is far from limited to political activism, and even predates the state. Milestones include 26 delegates undertaking a 10-day journey to attend the founding of Hebrew University (1925) and over 160 volunteers tending the citrus crops while Kibbutzniks fought the Yom Kippur War (1973).

Israel’s sixth President, Chaim Herzog, even honed his leadership skills as IUJF Chair, from 1941 to 1942. UJS no longer has an aliyah officer – a position once held by Reform Judaism’s Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner – but runs popular trips to Israel, offering specialised itineraries in social action, politics, history, religion and sightseeing.

Another lapsed position is the Soviet Jewry Officer, thankfully no longer needed, whilst the UJS Regions that inspired so many songs, personalised sweatshirts and pranks were scrapped in 2008.

Other highlights of UJS’s 100-year history include the first computer arriving in 1993, turning Aleph magazine production digital, and the election of the first female chair, Rosalind Nysenbaum, in 1971 – though so much time passed before Susie Simmons’ 1995 election that she too was celebrated as the first. Thankfully times have changed; seven of the last nine elected leaders have been women.

UJS has always been about “more Jewish students doing more Jewish things”, in the phrase coined by Alan Senitt (chair 2001-2003). Though Alan was tragically killed shortly after handing the reins to his successor, his legacy lives on: the past decade has seen UJS provide funds and facilities for Jewish student experiences such as the inter-JSoc JUEFA football tournament, Jewniversity Challenge, Booze 4 Jews club nights and the Great Kosher Cook Off.

Today UJS proudly supports 64 JSocs at over 80 campuses, providing “homes away from home” for around 8,500 Jewish students each year and representing their interests locally, nationally and internationally. With children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of alumni now leading alongside their peers, the next 100 years look set to be as inspiring and successful as the first 100 have been.


Current and former members, staff and friends will be celebrating UJS’s centenary simultaneously in London and Israel on 30th June and we hope to see the whole community there. Please see for details

June 27, 2019 13:30

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