'Love thy neighbour as thyself': a guiding force in UJS

‘Jewish students are about as homogenous as a pick n’ mix.’

This is a favourite phrase of UJS President Josh Seitler, and indeed Jewish students can be found on a huge range of spectrums. Politics and religion are of course two of the areas in which the diversity of Jewish students really comes to the fore, and we are proud to say that UJS embraces Jewish students of all persuasions.

We mobilised against fees and cuts. Back in 2010, Jewish students marched with NUS and UCU in central London, and Channel 4 News broadcasted a live interview with Jewish NUS NEC member Rachel Wenstone and Jon Snow. More recently, a motion to support the NUS #cutthecosts campaign was passed at last year’s UJS Conference.

Our dedication to liberation causes has grown insurmountably: the UJS Liberation networks were established over five years ago and last year saw UJS launch both the Reclaim mental health campaign and the first ever UJS Liberation Conference.

 

UJS has also facilitated training for Jewish students and UJS teams alike with Jami, the Jewish mental health charity, and Keshet UK, the Jewish LGBT charity. UJS and J-Socs have hosted Luciana Berger MP, the then-shadow MP for Mental Health and Dina Brawer, founder of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance).

We pioneered #LABELFREE, a campaign that challenged stereotypes and labelling around identities, both Jewish and other.

 

And we don’t just speak about these principles; we live by them. For the second year running, UJS Summit aspired to model a cross-communal Shabbat with guest Rabbis and Chaplains from the Liberal, Reform, Masorti and Orthodox movements. This year we were exceptionally honoured to host Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, as well as Rabbi Mordechai Zeller and family, Chaplains to Cambridge and East Anglia.

Also in attendance were representatives from Keshet UKAnthony NolanStandWithUs UK and Yachad. These organisations highlighted not only concepts and tools for welcoming diverse students to J-Socs but also provided engaging content on topics such as interfaith, social action and women of faith. This also tied in to our commitment to peer leadership, as several of these sessions were led or facilitated by student activists.

 

At Summit, left: students joining the Anthony Nolan register; right, J-Soc presidents discussing how to make their J-Socs inclusive to all

Overall, we’re proud to be a diverse, cross-communal union that is truly a space for all its student members.

Our J-Socs, too, have recently spent time looking at how they can further enhance their peer leadership and cross communal aspects.

Bristol J-Soc became the first ever committee to introduce the role ‘Cross-Communal Officer’, strengthening last year’s team’s work on introducing a variety of services; we hope to see other committees follow suit.

St. Andrews sought to build on regional cooperation as a way to reach out to more students, which follows two years of Scottish and Northern Shabbatonim; the most recent hosted Orthodox Chaplain Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim and Liberal Chaplain Rabbi Leah Jordan.

This year’s UJS Conference sees several motions (to be published soon, so watch this space) further committing UJS to working on diversity, cross-communalism and engagement across spectrums.

We have also focused on catering for diversity in a literal sense, exploring and committing to providing food on trips and programmes that is suitable to the widest range of kashrut licensing preferences.

Embracing diversity within the Jewish community is matched by an enthusiasm for tackling prejudice and creative cohesive communities alongside of all backgrounds.

Just two weeks ago, having dedicated more time and resources to foster campus interfaith work, our J-Soc Officer James Graham supported J-Socs with a huge range of events to mark Interfaith Week. Speed Faithing, Open Mic Interfaith Night, ‘Faith in the 21st Century’ panel, volunteering and interfaith Friday Night Dinners and quiz nights are just some of the events we have seen recently.

 

Ask a Jew, Ask a Muslim: Coexistence stall at Goldsmiths University

Over the past month UJS and HET have worked together on a programme to educate NUS staff and sabbatical officers from Students’ Unions around the country about the horrors of the Holocaust and the perils of allowing racism and fascism to rise again. Far more eloquently than we could, NUS Scotland President Vonnie Sandlan summed up her experiences:

‘I was incredibly grateful for the invite to join the Holocaust Educational Trust on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, alongside student officers and school pupils from across the North West.

‘It’s vital we never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, or any of the genocides that have caused irreparable destruction and devastation of lives and communities around the world. Just having an understanding of the cause, effect, and consequence of the Holocaust felt like insufficient preparation for the trip, and it’s hard to put into words the impact that visiting the sites of such suffering can have. Standing on the site of such unimaginable inhumanity and horror, and trying to understand how individuals could have perpetrated such atrocity, is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

‘In our modern society, it is unfathomable that we fail to learn from our history. To see antisemitism still rearing its head, the duty and onus to tackle it is one which falls to every single one of us.’

Read Vonnie’s blog about her experience on the programme here.

 

Too often, animosity between some Jewish students and some Muslim students is the focus of campus relations, but from London to Leeds, we continually see Jewish and Muslim students building positive and productive relationships. For example, in Birmingham, the ParliaMentors project brought together a group of students to work on Outnumber Hunger, a project that actively supported the homeless and needy in the city centre.

UJS is proud that at our last two conferences, we hosted inspiring British politicians who are also leaders from our country’s wonderful Muslim community. Sajid Javid delivered what was described at the time as the political speech of the year, and last year Sadiq Khan highlighted the shared values between Jews and Muslims, and the need to unite around the great deal that we share rather than the small things that may otherwise divide us.

 We know that there is more we can do to make our union entirely inclusive and we’re committed to continuing to work towards it. ‘Lo alecha hamalacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorim l'hibatil mimena’ – it is not up to you to complete the task, but nor are you free to desist from it. (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 2:21) Society needs communities like ours to choose friendship over fear, and when we look at the 140+ leaders that joined us at Summit, enthusiastically participating in training and education that focused on diversity and inclusion, we are excited for the next 12 months and the future beyond that too. 

About UJS

We are the voice of over 8,500 Jewish students, spanning 60 Jewish Societies (J-Socs) on campuses across the UK and Ireland. We are traditional, progressive, cultural and spiritual; we come from the left, centre and right and can be found across religious and political spectrums.

Together we create and deliver powerful campaigns; fighting prejudice, advancing inclusion, and inspiring education and action on the issues that matter to us. 

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