Size matters as JSocs thrive nationwide


As Jewish students return to their campuses in the coming weeks, a new phenomenon will be evident.

While many have traditionally been drawn to universities with the largest Jewish Societies, such as Leeds and Birmingham, the past year has seen a substantial growth in smaller, regional JSocs.

Bristol JSoc was last year's biggest success story, with membership numbers increasing from 25 to 150 in just over a year and the coveted UJS award for JSoc of the Year secured.

The rise prompted University Jewish Chaplaincy to run a successful campaign appealing for funding for a chaplaincy couple to live and work in the city.

Rabbi Avi and Laurie Rosten will begin their duties this month, with Chabad's Rabbi Mendy Singer and his wife Chaya also arriving in the area to assist the growing Jewish student population.

More than half of the 65 JSocs outside London fall into the smaller JSoc category.

While some have just a handful of members, others such as Durham and Newcastle have managed to consolidate a sizeable core of regular attendees.

Alex Tansey, Durham JSoc president last year, saw the society grow thanks to a big intake of freshers which provided more active members.

He said: "I think it grew because of the amount and variety of events, and inclusivity of the JSoc. Because it is small it is easier to be cross-communal. We got different rabbis involved: Reform, Orthodox, Chabad, Genesis. We catered to different needs."

Durham has around 80 members and regularly sees between 20 and 45 people attend events.

Mr Tansey explained the advantages of a smaller JSoc. "It is more tailor-made. You actively know what people want because you talk to members at each event."

Although the city lacks a Jewish community, the society benefits from a number of facilities including a college with a kosher kitchen and a part-time chaplain, Rabbi Aaron Lipsey.

A new Department for Jewish Culture at the university has invited Jewish students to attend lectures in the coming year.

Third-year student Mr Tansey admitted there were challenges too. "It's hard to reach out, to bring people in," he said.

"We need to compromise on issues. For example, Nottingham will do a Reform and Orthodox minyan. We cannot really do that if we only have 15-20 boys."

Durham's neighbouring JSoc, Newcastle, has doubled its number of active members and events over the past year. Of their 40 members, between 10 and 25 attend regularly.

JSoc co-president Anna Ehrlich said: "It's more of a struggle to get things done but has a really nice family feeling. We run a huge variety of events despite being a small JSoc. There's something for everyone."

Members of smaller JSocs often speak of the closeknit, communal environment as being a major attraction.

"They are much more than JSoc members. They are like family. Everyone helps out. Everyone's opinion is valued," said Vidi Horwich, the 21-year-old president of Salford JSoc, one of the new societies set up in the past year.

Salford JSoc was launched last Hanukkah and already has 12 members.

The nursing student said it will hold some joint events with Manchester JSoc to help boost numbers for big events, but he is also hoping to run Friday night meals and evening socials.

Sheffield Hallam Jewish Society will also take its first tentative steps this September. Although only a handful of members are signed up so far, president Abi Prettyman from Leicester said it was not just about numbers, but the importance of being represented on campus.

"When you go to university, regardless of where it is, it will always be vibrant and multicultural, and I think it is really important that the student union represents that," she said.

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