It seems that almost every day there is an article in a newspaper or a programme on TV attacking religion and, by extension, mocking people of faith in general. But for me, my Judaism is so much more than believing in God equals ‘loony’ equation. I do believe in God as it happens, but that is not what defines me as being a part of a Jewish Community.
Being Jewish on campus means that I have a group of friends that I can socialise with, and a network of support available for when things aren’t going so well. My main connection to other Jewish students is through my Jewish Society (JSoc). Our JSoc is part of the Union of Jewish Students which is the national umbrella organisation for all Jewish students on campus. It supports a multitude of Jsocs around the United Kingdom. JSoc caters for all Jews at university, regardless of personal beliefs or religious backgrounds.
The main attraction of our JSoc is Friday Night Dinners (marking the start of the Jewish Sabbath) which regularly attracts over 100 students. They are the highlight of the week for me – a chance to relax after a week of uni, socialise with my friends, and do something Jewish. The reason the meals are so popular is not because they provide a religious service (although those aspects are available for those that want them), but because they provide a safe, warm space for people to meet each other and enjoy some food that isn’t pasta or baked beans. We are also very lucky to have incredible dedicated Jewish chaplains on our campus, paid for by the Jewish Chaplaincy. They provide pastoral care for students having difficulties and they also provide us with free home-cooked meals and a friendly ear when we need it.
One of Judaism’s biggest mantras is the need for ‘tikkun olam’ – ‘improving the world’, whether it’s through raising money for charity, volunteering in a community or getting involved with interfaith work, all of which are aims that the JSoc take on when running events such as blood drives or charity events.
One of the things I really like about my JSoc is the emphasis it places on meeting students of different religions – the Jewish society is really at the forefront of interfaith activities. The Jsoc encourages us to bring a friend to Friday nights for example, where people often bring their non-Jewish flatmates so that they can see where we all disappear off to every week! I think that this warm gesture of inclusion helps in a small way to break down barriers of mistrust and misunderstanding that is harming social cohesion elsewhere in the UK.
Happy Jewish New Year to all New Statesman readers!