Sometimes I think I might have the best job in the world – or at least in the UK Jewish Community. Every day I come to work with a team of committed recent graduates, working with 350 student volunteers, leading a union representing over 8,500 Jewish students, committed to diverse and dynamic Jewish life.
To give you a sense of life working to support student leaders across the UK, I’ll share some highlights from recent weeks.
In February we hosted our fun and pun-tastic national Jewish student competitions, Jewniversity Challenge and Juefa Cup. 250 students from 24 campuses came together to pit their physical or intellectual prowess against each other. The London heat of Jewniversity Challenge was also notable for featuring a team from Courtauld, one of our newest J-Socs, as well as a team representing the London Egalitarian Student Minyan, another recently established Jewish student initiative in London.
On to the more serious side of the work, last month saw UJS and Jewish students robustly debunking the Israeli Apartheid Week campaign, offering instead a positive and pragmatic narrative on Israel-Palestine. Jewish students at Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, the London School of Economics, King’s College London, and University College London ran Piece 2 Peace. In just a few days, student activists reached over 4000 students and garnered 1000 signatures on a pro two-state and anti BDS petition.
A few weeks ago, it was my privilege to accompany the UJS President, UJS Campaigns Director and students from LSE and Warwick to represent concerns of Jewish students to Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, and Minister for Universities, Greg Clark MP. This resulted from UJS’ President Ella Rose joining the JLC’s meeting with the Prime Minister earlier this year.
Earlier in March, UJS ran the second pilot trip of a new Holocaust education programme with non-Jewish student leaders. This project has been developed in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust [H.E.T] and has already seen 30 National Union of Students [NUS], Students’ Union and student faith society leaders participate in a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and deliver Holocaust education for their peers. NUS President Toni Pearce “was completely blown away by the whole experience, not just getting a visceral and emotional insight into the persecution of the European Jewish population during the Holocaust but pre-war Jewish life in Europe. With anti-Semitism on the rise again in the UK, there is a huge challenge to the student movement to stand against it, and in the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to say very clearly, never again.”
I have spent the best part of fifteen years educating, training and supporting young people and young adults in the British Jewish Community. Something that is unique about UJS is that it combines many areas of importance for the community and passion for me: engaging seriously with Israel; bringing different types of Jews together to share in positive and proud Jewish life; and playing our part as Jews in broader society, combating racism and participating in positive interfaith and social action projects.
Thankfully, UJS’ unique and important role is valued and supported by the community, with our key partners UJIA and CST being joined by a host of organisations and individuals to secure the full range of programming, campaigns and services UJS delivers for thousands of Jewish students each month. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all in the community who support UJS and our community’s inspiring leaders on campus.
I’d also like to take advantage of this platform to ask you all to support Jewish students with a particular request. Please don’t believe the hype and the worst you hear about being a Jewish student on campus. Instead, please see and hear for yourselves the many examples of vibrant Jewish student life our talented and dedicated leaders are creating and defending. Jewish students are ensuring that they play an active part in their local and national societies, whilst building Jewish community now and for the future. Jewish student leaders are striving for proud, diverse and dynamic Jewish and British societies - societies that, in the words of our current president Ella Rose, are “unified not uniform”.
David Brown is Executive Director at the Union of Jewish Students.
Email David on firstname.lastname@example.org | Follow David @davidbrown_83