Chaplain warns of double trouble for Jewish students

Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski says rising anti-Israel activism on campus is adding to problems caused by the pandemic


The rabbinic head of University Jewish Chaplaincy has warned of the double whammy of rising anti-Israel activism on campus in the wake of the Middle East violence and the lasting impact on students of the pandemic.

Speaking ahead of a two-day crowdfunder for UJC, Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski said the chaplains were there to support the estimated 8,500 UK Jewish students.

He reported that over the past week or so, there had been “a massive uptick in the outpouring of hate on campus; all sorts of unpleasantness, both online and marches.

“We are there to combat hatred. This will pass but every time it happens, it gets worse.” Anticipating “a bumper year in terms of need”, Rabbi Belovski added that students’ education had been disturbed by Covid and pastoral efforts would be required to help those dealing with loss or trauma as a result of the pandemic.

“This is the first time most students will be away from home. We specialise in pastoral care and can signpost people to the right places.”

Chaplains were “the boots on the ground and best placed to respond directly to key issues. We are there to empower and support the next generation of Jewish leaders.”

UJC is working to promote the IHRA definition of antisemitism at campuses across the country. It is also supporting students affected by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, in tandem with organisations such as the Union of Jewish Students.

“The vast majority of Jewish students find BDS obnoxious,” he observed.

And while UJC has “centrist Orthodox leanings”, looking to encourage students to engage with their Jewish identity, Rabbi Belovski — the minister of Golders Green United Synagogue — stressed that it was there for students across the religious spectrum.

According to a 2019 UJC student survey, 80 per cent of respondents said their Jewish lives on campus had been “enriched or enhanced” by their chaplain.

He said the organisation — which delivers care packages and hosts Friday night dinners — also helped students with issues of sexuality, family relationships or drugs.

“We train people for this kind of work. It is about being non-judgemental and accepting. We hire rabbinical chaplains who are open-minded and comfortable with people of all orientations. We are interested in breaking down barriers, not creating them.”

UJC hopes to raise “as much as £700,000” in the matched fundraiser on Sunday and Monday.

The proceeds will go towards enhancing all aspects of Jewish life on campus.

“We want to be fully staffed or have chaplains able to go to smaller campuses where there is a problem or need around the country,” Rabbi Belovski explained.

“Without UJC, there would be no place for Jewish students to get immediate support on the ground.”

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