I am so lucky to be able to write this at the end of the greatest year of my life so far.
It is human nature to place others in boxes: it makes them easier to understand and predict their views, but over the last year as UJS President, I have learnt how damaging this can be.
When you assume someone’s opinions based on their background, you limit their ability to express themselves; you ignore what they actually say. Across our community, we are too quick to shut people down because of how they express their Judaism. Too quick to build barriers within our own community rather than working together to tackle the real issues that threaten us.
I have experienced first-hand how destructive this is. How are Jewish students supposed to stand united to fight genuine threats to their welfare, when they are too busy searching for a Jewish space that they feel welcome in?
When I was elected, some people said that a Yeshiva boy from a strictly Orthodox background in Manchester who grew up learning Torah all morning in school could not be the head of a cross-communal organization, representing Jewish students across diverse religious and political spectrums.
I am proud to have proved them wrong.
During my year as UJS President, I have built on the work of my predecessors to ensure that Jewish Societies across the country, along with our national union, are ever-increasingly inclusive. Our annual Summit Shabbaton this year welcomed guest Rabbis and Chaplains from the Liberal, Reform, Masorti and Orthodox movements, along with representatives of Keshet UK, StandWithUs UK and Yachad.
Bristol J-Soc became the first ever committee to introduce the role ‘Cross-Communal Officer’ whilst other J-Socs have added non-Orthodox Shabbat services to their weekly gatherings. Meanwhile, at UJS Conference, Jewish students passed motions that further commit us to working on diversity, cross-communalism and engagement across spectrums.
Furthermore, Jewish students are constantly told by well-intentioned outsiders that they should be standing up for Israel more effectively or ‘advised’ on how they should be fighting antisemitism better. But if you look beyond sensationalist headlines, you will find that Jewish students are running incredible initiatives like Antisemitism Awareness Week by LSE J-Soc and the Israel-Palestine Discussion Forum co-hosted by Bristol J-Soc. They are defeating BDS motions, running – often successfully – for leadership positions in local and national elections, and training their fellow students in identifying and combatting antisemitism.
Jewish students are not paid for what they do, they have degrees to complete and a world to discover; yet they so often manage to achieve greater things than the rest of the Jewish community.
From Aberdeen to Exeter, Jewish students stand up loud and proud of being Jewish and for what they believe in. Without seeking credit and knowing that they may receive abuse or threats but determined to do the right thing nonetheless, our students are at the forefront of so many aspects of campus life. These outstanding individuals, whom I have been honoured to represent this year, deal with a multitude of complex issues; and in their small communities, they know how to work together, no matter what they need to achieve. They know how to produce a Friday Night Dinner for 20 or for 200. They defend their identities on local and national levels. Believe it or not, they even know how best to stand up for Israel and tackle the difficult questions that others are scared to answer. So many of them give up huge amounts of time for others; whether that’s running their J-Soc, volunteering or being sabbatical officers in student unions up and down the country, Jewish students are at the forefront of campus life. I am so proud to be able to say that I represented these outstanding individuals for a year.
This is why I was so lucky to be UJS President. If you are not on campus then you only hear the high-profile stories, the ones that hit the headlines - but I know that this doesn’t even touch the surface of the reality.
I am not talking about only one or two students; hundreds of Jewish students stand up and teach their peers about their identities on a daily basis.
Throughout the year, I have received thanks and congratulations, but the credit is not mine to take. I am one person, with 24 hours in my day, if people think that I alone ensure Jewish students are thriving on UK campuses, they are completely mistaken. My job is to facilitate Jewish students flourishing and succeeding; without their incredible work, there would be nothing to celebrate.
I want to say thank you to every single Jewish student in the UK and Ireland for giving me the honour and privilege to represent you. It is the best job in the world and I will never forget how immensely proud I am every time I go on campus or read about what you do. I have learnt so much from all of you, the future of our Jewish community, and I hope that our community will too.
What a year I've had...
From being elected, to Birmingham freshers with the J-Soc commitee and their J-Soc Officer James, speaking at UJS Conference 2016, attending the Exeter Purim J-Soc Ball, representing UJS and speaking at the World Jewish Congress in New York, playing my part at the Yom Ha'atzmaut BBQ, and having a ball at the Student Awards 2017... It's been fantastic!