When taking on the role of UJS President, I was told by everyone and anyone that it would be over before I knew it… and whilst I cannot believe it, as of this afternoon my time at UJS is done.
This past year has been truly incredible, and it would not have been what it was without the help and support of the UJS team, trustees and supporters. No-one will ever realise how much time and energy goes into each event, campaign and programme, and they really cannot be thanked enough.
But this would all be for nothing if it were not for the Jewish Societies and Jewish students on campus that make this all possible.
There has been nothing more rewarding that seeing the impact of our support and love of Jewish students on campus. The peer led events, the drive to make J-Socs more inclusive places, the inter-communal connections. However, above everything, I have seen Jewish students be loud and proud of who they are, and what they are about.
This year has been a roller-coaster of activity and emotion, with students at the front and centre the entire way through. The ability to unionise is a precious gift enjoyed by far too few people around the world, and I am enormously grateful to the Jewish students that have worked tirelessly to shape theirs. UJS is something precious, and working with Jewish student leaders is one of the most enriching and worthwhile experiences I have ever had.
Whether it has been with students that believe UJS have gotten in right, or with those that have challenged us, calling on us to think differently and work to ensure our union is reflective of their Jewish experiences as well as those of others, this is a challenge we accept and have risen to. But we are only as strong as our members, and we are and can do nothing without the engagement of Jewish students in our structures. When something in UJS is not right, submit a motion, call up one of the UJS team and make the difference you want to see. The power of student activism should not be underestimated, and UJS is in a unique position to empower this activism and channel it to enact change.
But this change is not limited to the student context alone. The Jewish community is a wonderful thing to be a part of, and the keen interest and care for student issues is remarkable. However, we cannot allow this interest and care to manifest itself into instruction and demand. Throughout this year I have found myself needing to remind the Jewish community that Jewish life on campus is in a great place, and that – despite what they may occasionally read in the Jewish press – the students are alright. It is only now, as my term is over, that I can fully appreciate the absurdity that there are those in the community that believe they understand Jewish student life better than Jewish students themselves!
Our community must learn to take Jewish students and their representatives at their word, empowering young Jewish leaders and seeing them as the solution to the issues we face, rather than perpetuating our communal divides in their approach to campus. When they occur, it is Jewish students that face the issues on campus – whether it is BDS motions or antisemitic incidences – and so it is students that must lead in tackling these. UJS will always act swiftly and forcefully in countering these threats to Jewish students, and thanks to our partnership with CST, we are better placed to respond to issues than we have been in the past, and we are lucky to have seen incidences on campus decline in this past year. However, we cannot and should not ever allow this to distract from the reality; that Jewish student life in the UK and Ireland is thriving.
After all, the greatest disservice to Jewish students, and the Jewish people as a whole, would be to allow adversity to define us.
At a time where the Jewish community appears to have deep fracture lines, the work of Jewish students alongside UJS, bringing people together is more important than ever. As a community, our diversity is our strength, and this should be celebrated as our pride and joy. And we have proven that time and time again this year, whether it is leading our community on the issue of asylum seekers in Israel, joining the call demanding #EnoughisEnough with antisemitism in the Labour Party, empowering peer led, cross-communal activity on campuses, celebrating Interfaith Week and Mitzvah Day on more campuses than ever before, marking Holocaust Memorial Day and bringing a survivor to NUS Zones Conference, or bringing over 250 students of all faiths and backgrounds to Israel.
UJS is the voice of Jewish students, and it has been an absolute pleasure to have been gifted the privilege of embodying that voice, even if it was just for a year.
The Jewish student community is diverse, thriving and robust, and I cannot wait to see how my successor will continue transforming Jewish campus life for the better.
UJS President 2017-18