It’s Friday the 31st  of January and Bristol’s The Ark and Dove Hillel House is filled with debate, discussion, humour and hummus as over 50 students come to share Shabbat with three esteemed, diverse guests.

Lord Mayor of Bristol Faruk Choudhury was grateful to be invited by the J-Soc and, thanking the committee, he admitted that he wasn’t surprised that such a genuine example of hospitality was offered by the Jewish community.

The Lord Mayor fondly recounted the first time he made a tour of local places of worship, asking the communities they housed what he could do to improve things, meeting with one of the few Synagogues in Bristol.

The Rabbi and his staff thanked the Mayor but assured him they were fine, instead extending an offer to join them for a Friday Night Dinner one week. This heart-felt invitation to share their customs, culture and food touched the Mayor and has since secured his loyal support for Bristol’s local Jewish community.

bristo j-soc ark and dove

The Bristol J-Soc team.

Deputy Lord Mayor Peter Main joined Choudhury and was equally delighted to attend. On being approached by J-Soc President Noah Levy, the Deputy Mayor had replied, ‘I would love to come along, but you know, I am gay.’

Main, a Liberal Democrat councillor for many years, repeated this concern as we sat down for dinner, proudly wearing his rainbow flag badge.

He said that he felt it was important to celebrate his identity and that he had heard that the Jewish community was not necessarily ‘gay-friendly’, concerned that the Biblical prohibition on sexual relations between men might affect broader attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexuals.

The dinner proved a perfect setting for students to set the record straight and they proudly told the Deputy Lord Mayor about the UJS LGBT+ Network as well as the many Jewish organisations set up and run by people who identify as LGBT+.

Main was reassured that though some Jewish people adhere to the biblical prohibition against certain sexual acts, there are many diverse views within the Jewish community and a lot of individuals and groups, UJS and J-Socs included, working hard to combat homophobia and all forms of discrimination.

Peter Main thoroughly enjoyed the evening, reporting a few days later that he “was very impressed by Bristol Uni’s J-Soc” adding that “they are all friendly and outgoing, and add their strong religious and cultural roots to Bristol’s wonderful ethnic mix.”

The third guest hosted by the J-Soc was Communities Minister and MP for Bristol West Stephen Williams. The occasion was not Williams’ first experience of a Friday Night Dinner and Williams even joked with the students that he was disappointed not to have been able to sing Shalom Alachem and Eshet Chayil.

Williams’ familiarity with the traditions of Shabbat are due to his active involvement with the Jewish community in his capacity as a member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. The Communities Minister has visited Israel three times and enjoyed being hosted by families for the Sabbath celebrations each time.

When he addressed the students he spoke about the importance of supporting minority communities. He acknowledged that both he and Peter Main are gay and that Lord Mayor Choudhury is a Muslim and, like them, the Jewish students present are also members of a minority community within Bristol.

Williams also referred to Holocaust Memorial Day and paraphrased a speech he had made earlier in the week, emphasizing that the Holocaust was a unique event and that it “must be remembered and understood, particularly by young people for whom it is an historical event that took place long before they were born,” adding that “it is right for the Government to support that”.

By all three men attending the dinner, they were shining examples of Government supporting young people. Bristol J-Soc and Jewish students all around the UK and Ireland are not only keeping the memory of their ancestors alive and successfully sharing the contemporary Jewish culture with local communities and wider society, broadening appreciation and understanding.

Noah and the committee were delighted with how the evening went and feel they have helped take a step towards stronger relations with the local community. Noah reflected on how the ‘J-Soc aims to help Jewish students to continue their customs and traditions away from home, whilst also welcoming and helping to educate non-Jews about our community too’.

The students are proud to have demonstrated the diversity and hospitality of the Jewish people and look forward to hosting many more guests for Friday Night Dinner!

For more information on Bristol J-Soc and to get yourself invited for some delicious home-cooked food, please visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/bristol.jsoc or tweet them @HarkandLove .

To find out more about the UJS Networks (LGBT+, Disabled and Women Students) please email georginab@ujs.org.uk for more info.

Discover what J-Socs around the UK and Ireland did this year to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day at http://ujs.org.uk/news/1082/students-come-together-to-remember-the-holocaust/ or stay tuned to read more from jewishnews.co.uk!