Two weeks ago, I was with students at UJS Liberation Conference. A few days later I was sharing my experience of being an LGBT+ Jew on an interfaith panel at Cardiff university. As my penultimate week as UJS CEO, this seemed a fitting farewell to supporting UJS Presidents and their teams fighting for Jewish students and all marginalised groups to live fully and freely without fear of harassment or hatred.
Next week Arieh Miller will take over as UJS CEO. I hope all our members will warmly welcome Arieh as they have welcomed me on campuses across the country, and when we’ve come together for UJS Summits and UJS Conferences.
I’ve had the privilege to work with and for dedicated and diverse student leaders. Here are just a fraction of their achievements: 72,000 shabbat and festival meals; almost 300 Jewish students and over 175 students from a range of faiths and cultures on trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories; intelligent, informed and multifaceted education on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has reached over 30,000 students; training over 800 university Labour club members to understand, prevent and combat antisemitism; reducing BDS or anti-Israel motions from more than 40 three years ago to less than 20 today; 22,000 diverse students and staff commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day; taking over 150 NUS and SU leaders on a four-part programme featuring a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau; Bringing together over 25,000 students during Interfaith Weeks; over 400 potential life savers signed up to the Bone Marrow register; and campaigning to challenge mental health stigma.
I have been lucky to work with and be inspired by so many J-Soc committee leaders, campaigns activists, and UJS sabbaticals. I hope they are proud of the important and impressive contributions they have made to Jewish life on campus and British Society.
To those of you still on campus, I hope some of what those who have come before you have achieved will encourage you to seize the opportunities UJS offers.
I also hope you won’t mind indulging a few reflections from an old timer.
Be proud, be positive, be proactive
There are incidents of sickening antisemitism on campus, and the courage and confidence with which students have responded to these challenges has been an inspiration for me.
We need to make sure the bigger and brighter picture of thriving Jewish life on campus gets as much attention as the sporadic incidents of hatred and hostility.
Be proud of being Jewish, and be positive with your expression of Judaism, not defined by responding to those that hate us.
Choose how you want to be Jewish. Take up all the opportunities of those offering programmes and activities on campus, yet always know that there is not one way to express you Jewishness along with all your other identities.
Be proactive on the issues that matter to you and know that UJS will always try to support you with your activism and leadership.
If combating those who seek to demonise and delegitimise the State of Israel is your cause, be passionate in that fight. Try to also find time to connect with Israeli history, culture and society. A relationship with Israel should not be defined solely by political activism.
“UJS doesn’t represent me”
Challenging UJS to be better at bringing more students together is a welcome part of being a peer-led and representative union. There have also been times when students have disagreed with a UJS policy or statement and sought to undermine the representative mandate of UJS.
It seems obvious to state, yet I think it needs saying: being cross-communal, having an annually elected President (4 years of averaging 1000+ votes), and having policy decided democratically means UJS may never express 100% of what any one student or group of students feels or thinks.
Our commitment to diversity and inclusion means we hold together a student community with contrasting and even contradictory views. This comes with difficulties and I hope I have always tried to listen and learn where I and the team can make the improvements needed.
We must avoid the comfort in always and only being with those who pray, vote, learn, look or love the same way we do. We need to keep seeing the value in compromise and a willingness to be part of diverse communities. In a world of increasing polarisation, for the vitality of our community, it is vital to seek and strengthen the pragmatic leadership that comes from UJS and J-Socs being cross-communal.
As Gary Barlow asked when Take That reunited: “Have a little patience”.
If you’re a student on a particular campus, or if you’re concerned with a particular issue or incident, you are rightly determined to take action there and then and have every right to expect support from the UJS team.
It doesn’t get said often enough: every single UJS team member I have had the privilege to call my colleague has tirelessly and often thanklessly schlepped the length and width of the UK, been available for middle of the night support for their J-Socs and students, and has thrown every ounce of their being into leading, defending and enriching Jewish life.
Be demanding in seeking support from UJS. Please also have a little patience if supporting dozens of J-Soc leaders across the UK, or responding to many different incidents at the same time, might lead to UJS taking a little extra time in getting their support to you.
And now for something completely different
In Arieh Miller, UJS have a new CEO who has the values, vision and talent to support UJS Presidents and their teams in supporting and working with all of you. From his leadership roles with RSY-Netzer, Limmud, CST, at the Israeli Embassy in London, as a youth worker in Leeds, a volunteer with the London Ambulance service, and most recently as Executive Director of the Zionist Federation, Arieh brings huge experience and capabilities to this role. I am thrilled to be handing over to one of our community’s most impressive leaders.
Arieh will be taking over as UJS CEO on Tuesday 2nd April.
With 2019 being UJS’ centenary year, there are unique and exciting pieces of work that require some additional capacity. Depending on when my next step is confirmed, after some time finishing up handover in the coming weeks, you may still see me hanging round UJS supporting the exciting activities to celebrate UJS 100.
This generation of students stands on the shoulders of the giants who came before them in the last 100 years, fighting fascists, defeating attempts to boycott Israel or ban J-Socs, mobilising for Soviet Jewry, and championing diversity within our community.
It has been an honour to work with and for Jewish students. I am so excited to see what’s to come as UJS enters the opening chapter of the next one hundred years.
P.S. everybody’s free to wear sunscreen