In this editorial, Joel Rosen introduces the first edition of Aleph in decades. You can read Aleph here.
In The Gates of the Forest Elie Wiesel concludes that “God made man because he loves stories”. I decided to bring Aleph, the magazine of the Union of Jewish Students, back into print, after a few decades in hibernation, because a new generation of Jewish students has stories for the rest of us.
Whenever we, as your sabbatical officers, are on the road, travelling to universities and meeting students, we’re struck by the diversity and intensity of Jewish student life. No two Jewish students are the same and our community is made up of remarkable people whose experiences sometimes go untold in Jewish communal discourse and in the wider conversations on campus. This publication is an attempt to capture some of that diversity whilst also keeping you up to date on our work.
I’m writing this editorial from a garishly 70s section of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, a friendly stranger has just placed a pile of old books beside me. I’d screenshotted a couple of classmarks of Yiddish works and the kindly librarian has returned with some treasures from storage. There’s a dark green copy of Sholem Aleichem’s ‘Mayses far Yidishe Kinder’ or ‘Stories for Jewish Children’, an illustrated translation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and some battered works by poets such as Kadia Molodowsky and Rachel Häring Korn. I trace my hands over the well-worn pages and, though I can’t speak Yiddish, there’s a reassuring familiarity to be found in these works that were read by Jewish immigrants, who fled the pogroms in the Russian Empire and, following the First World War, fascism on the European continent, to build a life in this city.
Whenever I feel lost in a new city, I try to find my bearings in a library or bookshop. I find it affirming to see a part of my story reflected in the writings of others. A couple of years before I started at university, I found myself in a library looking into a glass case. I distinctly remember as a teenager exploring Cambridge, a city whose Colleges, streets and very fabric are defined by Christianity, being directed in the University Library towards what the attendant described as ‘your people’s collection’. He was referring to the Cairo Genizah. Some four hundred thousand manuscript fragments were found in the Geniza or storeroom of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat - old Cairo. Two hundred thousand of these fragments of parchment, vellum and paper were brought over by Solomon Schechter in the late nineteenth century. They tell the story of an uninterrupted thousand-year-old continuum of Jewish life, from around 870 to the 19th Century. I saw an alphabet I understood, a civilisation whose message was universal but inheritance particular and felt at one with the world.
My hope with Aleph is that together we can assemble a library of stories, artwork and opinion pieces so that we can better understand ourselves and one another. Flicking through old editions of Aleph, I’m inspired by the activism and ambition of previous generations of Jewish students, who campaigned against fascism and for the Soviet Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. This generation is no less driven and is defiantly challenging conspiratorial antisemitism whilst building thriving Jewish communities in spite of the odds.
This edition of Aleph showcases some of the best Jewish student thought. Warren King shares his journey from prison to LSE and Mizy Clifton offers a moving meditation on the four sons from a trans perspective. Elsewhere you’ll find pieces on faith and community. Benjy Klauber-Griffiths champions the smaller JSoc whilst David Levy considers art, Judaism and Christianity. I hope you enjoy reading this edition of Aleph and that you’ll consider writing for the next.