Despite being Treasurer of Bristol J-Soc in my first year, I only got involved with UJS because my J-Soc President at the time decided to go on the Bristol Students’ Union ski trip, meaning I was ‘encouraged’ to attend NUS National Conference in 2014.
Three years on, I couldn’t be happier that she went on that ski trip. It really has been an immense privilege to work for UJS for the past two years. But what I’m most proud of is having had the opportunity to work with thousands of inspirational students from all backgrounds who have produced empowering campaigns, facilitated stimulating discussions and have stood up for what they believe in. I can only thank you all for your dedication and commitment to facilitating a vibrant Jewish student life on your campus. It has seemed that as the pressures on students increase, Jewish students have dedicated more time to improving their J-Soc, fighting BDS and running in elections. I’m consistently amazed by how much Jewish students fight, and win, above their weight, and I expect that to continue.
On a personal level, I’m truly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had to represent Jewish students, whether internationally to our EU institutions; nationally to MPs, our government, or the wider higher education sector; or locally to vice chancellors, students’ union presidents or local societies.
However, it hasn’t always been easy. Based on the fact that Israel-Palestine and BDS were the hot topics on campus two years ago, I was expecting that to continue. Instead, antisemitism was the flavour of the day, on the left and the right. Being Campaigns Director with an NUS leadership who had been accused of antisemitism was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because ‘things can only get better’, but a curse because it reflected the persistent tolerance towards antisemitism in the student movement. I guess the strangest periods, and also one of the hardest, was when UJS were caught up in the storm known as ‘The Lobby’. But throughout the hard times, particularly when Jewish students were being pushed out of NUS, there was so many people willing to stand up for them and make sure that the student movement was a place for them and to them I’m extremely grateful.
We’ve come out the other side to a student movement with a leadership that has made clear its opposition towards antisemitism; a leadership that includes a Jewish Vice President of NUS, the first since 2013. Representatives across the student movement are consistently engaging with UJS and Jewish students on issues ranging from Holocaust education to Interfaith, from Israel-Palestine to tackling racism and fascism, from social action initiatives to mental health awareness. There might be challenges ahead, but I’m confident that universities, NUS and students’ unions are taking positive steps to ensure that all Jewish students have a safe and positive campus experience.
I wrote in December that ‘antisemitism is not rife, universities are not “no-go zones for Jewish students” and there are no “certain universities that [Jewish students] should avoid”. I completely stand by what I said. That’s not to say that Jewish students are not facing considerable challenges on some campuses, London being one such place, or that the doubling of recorded antisemitic incidents should not raise concern.
But what I am saying is - to steal a quote from a colleague of mine, ‘every day on almost every campus, and almost every day at the remaining handful of campuses, Jewish students are safe and fully and freely expressing their Judaism and relationship with Israel.’ And I will always stand by that quote.
I’ve been very lucky to work with two incredible and inspiring sabbatical teams, supported by a brilliant professional team. I’m also extremely grateful for the continued support from colleagues at CST who work so hard every day to keep Jewish students safe. Without all of these people, half of the most amazing work that happens on campus just wouldn’t even see the light of day.
UJS has literally been my life for the past two years. I’ve become a van driver, a fully qualified (and over made-up) grandma, and drunk more coffee (and alcohol) than I thought possible. I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and I’m very much looking forward to a bit of a break over the next few weeks!
Good luck and Mazel Tov to next year’s team led by Josh Holt, in particular the campaigns trio: Liron, Rebecca and Sam. Liron, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you and I know that you, Sam and Rebecca will do incredible things in the year to come.