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18th November 2013

The ‘Jew’niversity experience

Sophie Lipton on how her religion affects her student lifestyle

Being Jewish is such a diverse term. One could be religious, cultural or even an atheist- it’s that broad. This may be why it is so hard to explain what it means to be Jewish, especially to some students who have never met another Jewish person in their lives. I want to explain that being Jewish may add another aspect to my university lifestyle, but it in no way stops me enjoying the classic student experience. So how does one deal with the questions which may have answers that are hard to explain? Since  becoming a student, here are the top three questions I have come across.


1)    So you’re Jewish…. What does that actually mean?”

First of all, explaining to people at University you’re Jewish can sometimes be daunting. I felt I had extra baggage to unpack, because telling people about faith can often open a whole can of worms. Luckily, I was not faced with anti-Semitism. I still remember telling one of my friends about my religion on the first day of University. The reaction I got was “cool. So does that mean you pray three times a day?”  To me I thought this was hilarious, because I don’t even go to synagogue (Jewish place of worship) once a month, let alone three times a day. After explaining that no, praying three times a day was not on my freshers agenda and that Judaism was different for everyone, I was determined to show my new friends that the priorities of Jewish students didn’t always revolve around prayer, but could be more of a social notion. My friends were amazing and accepted that my Judaism was part of my personality, taking me for who I was.

Similarly, previous secretary for Jsoc (Jewish Society) Lindsey Briggs also received a positive response to her Judaism. She states “I was really scared that everyone was going to define me by my faith. However, I was so wrong and I’ve never felt more comfortable with my identity in my halls”.

It’s fun explaining the diversity of Judaism to others, and I like to teach people about how I define myself as a Jew. However, this question cannot be summed up in a simple sentence. People have written extensive literature on this topic, and understanding some of the concepts can be a little tricky. As a result, it can sometimes be a challenge to explain Jewish life.

At University, being Jewish to me is attending an array of events. Friday night dinners are weekly occurrences which celebrate Shabbat (a festival which marks the end of a week). It’s a good way to unwind from a hectic schedule and just reflect upon the past days with good company and food. Whether this be with fifty or five people, atmosphere can be remarkable. Additionally, any excuse to celebrate a Jewish festival is always recognised, where activities range from prayer to parties. Jewish socials do not always revolve around praying, which I think is a general impression people get from faith groups. Of course, there is an element of prayer, but events also offer much more such as clubbing, pub quizzes and there is even a Jewish football team.


2)    Are all your friends Jewish?

A lot of my friendship group is not Jewish, but it just so happens that I live with the ones who are. I don’t categorize my ‘Jewish friends’ and my ‘non-Jewish friends’. I take everyone as an individual and we all go out together. My best friends are not defined by religion and I’m open to their cultures as I know they are open to mine. We have similarities which act as the foundations for our friendship. The difference is, with my Jewish friends the foundation may also be a religious bonding. I didn’t plan to live with other Jewish people, and we are not living with each other just because of our religion. It’s not intentional and I don’t know how it happens. Maybe it’s the fact we are a minority group and tend to stick together. Maybe it’s the fact we have a shared history. Or maybe it’s the fact we have similar cultural backgrounds. I really don’t know. I’m guessing it is a mixture of the three.


3)    How do all Jewish people know all other Jewish people?

This of course is not completely true! However, if, like me you grew up in North London where a predominance of Jewish people live, then one cannot help but be drawn into the ‘Jewish bubble’. Through youth groups, synagogue and even schools these bonds form. I suppose to the outside it is strange that I would have 50 plus mutual friends on Facebook with a Jewish person I have randomly bumped into in a club. The “oh do you know (insert Jewish friends name here)” game can sometimes go on for hours. It’s hard to explain how concentrated the British Jewish population is. This question was asked to me so much in fresher’s week, and my flat mates couldn’t understand how I knew so many people when term had not even begun.


So, there are my answers. There is no denying that my university experience has a Jewish dimension, but there are many sides to my identity. I am not just categorised as a Jewish student; all my friends see me for who I am, and I see them for who they are. I have made sure I am not completely defined to my religion even though it is an important part of my identity.

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