With Freshers’ Fair on Friday Avital Carno, argues the exclusion of Jewish students from the event, due to it coinciding with Jewish New Year, is disappointing and frustrating.
This week, thousands of freshers and returning students are looking forward to the Student’s Union (SU) Welcome Fair. One of the SU’S largest annual events, this is the first opportunity for freshers to discover the enormous range of activities now open to them. It provides both new and returning students with the chance to engage in university life, and, for many, joining these societies can serve as a lifeline in the potentially overwhelming university environment: it’s a chance to meet people with similar interests, to pursue old hobbies and discover new ones.
‘We shouldn’t be put in the situation of having to choose between our extra-curricular lives and our beliefs, culture and family life’
Please note we will be closed tomorrow from 12 and all day on Friday for the welcome fair. Catch us there instead! pic.twitter.com/lsyYyxrxC7
— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) September 20, 2017
Unfortunately, this year the vast majority of Jewish students will not be able to attend. This is because the fair has been scheduled on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), which is one of the two holiest festivals in the Jewish calendar. This clash has led to widespread disappointment amongst the university’s Jewish community, many of whom- including myself- feel deeply let down by their union.
Does the SU not want Jewish students in their societies?
Sadie Karia, a Second Year Dentistry Student, says ‘I feel really strongly about this as we shouldn’t be put in the situation of having to choose between our extra-curricular lives and our beliefs, culture and family life. I personally feel completely torn as my family want me at home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah but I also want to know what societies I can join … not having the same information that rest of the university does isolates us… does the SU not want Jewish students in their societies?’
Other faith groups on campus share the same sentiment. Zoulikha Belblidia, a Second Year student and the Interfaith Representative for the university’s Islamic Society, says: ‘It’s a shame that the Student Union, which has done so much over the past year to be as inclusive as possible, hasn’t served its purpose as a union on this occasion by excluding a large majority of the Jewish community from one of the biggest annual events … the SU must learn that in order to achieve its goal to represent every student, it needs to consider the festive holidays of all faiths and cultures before planning … so that no student feels excluded because of their faith.’
‘Hundreds of years of anti-Semitism… has taught Jews to stay quiet and not to take up too much space’
As a Jewish student myself, I often sense that the prevailing attitude amongst the Jewish community is an overwhelming need to keep one’s head down; we are paralyzed into silence by a pathological, inherited fear of rocking the boat. I think that this fear of protest, of speaking too loudly, is the result of hundreds of years of anti-Semitism, which has taught Jews to stay quiet and not to take up too much space.
— UJS (@UJS_UK) September 20, 2017
In an environment such as Bristol University, which prides itself on its supposed inclusiveness, liberal values and open-mindedness, I feel that this attitude is outdated and quite simply ridiculous. Jewish students have as much of a right to attend the university as students of any other faith (or lack of); we want to participate in university life, to contribute and benefit from all that the university has to offer.
It would be inconceivable for the university to organise its Welcome Fair on Christmas Eve, so why is Jewish New Year any different? Admittedly, the number of Christian students is far greater, but the university’s rapidly growing Jewish Society nevertheless has over 800 members.
‘I’ve been left so shocked and disappointed by this (apparent) complete disregard for Bristol’s Jewish students’
Up until this point, my experience as a Jewish student at Bristol has been almost entirely positive. I’ve encountered very little casual anti-Semitism, and my professors and personal tutor have happily gone out of their way to make sure I am able to catch up on any material missed due to religious observance. In fact, one of the reasons why I’ve fallen so in love with the university and the city is because of the accepting and open-minded attitude which seems to prevail.
‘I want the SU to prove me right; I want to see that they can learn from their mistakes, and actually do their job of representing the student body’
It’s because of all these good experiences that I’ve been left so shocked and disappointed by this (apparent) complete disregard for Bristol’s Jewish students, a ‘mistake’ which also occurred two years previously. I’d like to believe that what has happened is the result of simple carelessness, instead of indifference to the welfare of Jewish students, or even subtle anti-Semitism. I want the SU to prove me right; I want to see that they can learn from their mistakes, and actually do their job of representing the student body, not just a convenient portion of it.
Hopefully, at next year’s Freshers’ Fair, Jewish students will be able to attend.
Epigram has received the following response from Bristol SU:
“The clash between Rosh Hashanah and the Welcome Fair was drawn to our attention recently. The Welcome Week dates are sent by the University and scheduling has lead to the Welcome Fair falling on the Friday, so we will highlight this issue with them. We have been in discussion with J Soc to ensure that they still have presence at our Welcome Fair and there will be a number of other opportunities for Jewish Students to engage with our welcome offer in the coming weeks” (Des Ibekwe, Equality Liberation and Access Officer).
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