Chief Operating Officer of University Jewish Chaplaincy Suzy Richman explains how the organisation can help Jewish students with everything from exam stress to anti-Semitism on campus.

If you are a student or a parent or grandparent of a student about to start university, then you need to know about University Jewish Chaplaincy!

University Jewish Chaplaincy is an independent charity organisation that has been in existence for over 40 years, supporting thousands of Jewish students across the religious spectrum. Our Chaplains or Chaplaincy couples are stationed in main cities throughout the UK so all Universities are assigned a Chaplain that is closest to their region.

UJC provides a permanent communal framework for all Jewish students at universities across the UK. Officially recognised by the Universities, Chaplaincy couples are trained husband and wife rabbinic teams, equipped to deal with every aspect of student life.

From personal and health issues through to navigating bureaucratic challenges, the Chaplains are experienced in traversing the complexities of university life.

A Shavuot dinner for Nottingham University students

A Shavuot dinner for Nottingham University students

Additionally, with the current events in Israel and across Jewish communities worldwide, our Chaplains and Chaplaincy couples will continue to be there to offer both practical and emotional support to Jewish students through this difficult and worrying trend of anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism.

The Chaplaincy couples also create a warm and open-minded environment in which Jewish students can comfortably live an inspired Jewish life whilst away from home.

Chaplaincy works with Jewish communities and organisations across the country to plan and develop for the future of Jewish student life. Whilst students come and go, Chaplaincy ensures that the infrastructure is in place year-after-year, providing consistency and stability in the ever-changing university environment.

  • An example of how Chaplaincy can help:  Exam Stress

Revision, worry and possibly sleepless nights are some of the signs that exams are approaching.  For some, however, passing their exams was not their only concern!

Inevitably, a recent exam period coincided with the Festival of Shavuot and many found themselves in the unenviable position of receiving their exam dates and finding out that they had an exam on one or even both days of the Festival.  Sometimes, students managed to sort out this difficulty on their own; often, they turn to University Jewish Chaplaincy for support.

Nottingham University J-Soc at Fresher's Week

Nottingham University J-Soc at Fresher’s Week

Rabbi Gavin Broder (Rav Gav as he is affectionately known) has been the London Regional Chaplain for the past fourteen years and has assisted hundreds of students who have found themselves in the ‘exam quandary’.

He explains that “with the many Universities, departments and exam offices across London (and throughout the country), each student has to be dealt with individually and it is through these relationships with the Universities that we are able to assist the students satisfactorily.  This can result in an administrative nightmare often stretching over four months!”

Very often, Universities will allow Jewish students to sit their exam either before or after a Festival with the proviso that they do not have access to non-Jewish colleagues who have already sat their exam.  To ensure that conditions are met, students find themselves ‘imprisoned’ in the chaplain’s home for one or two days and sometimes more, with mobile phones and laptops ‘confiscated’.

Though the Chaplain will try and sweeten the student’s incarceration with fine food, they have to come to terms with being away from home and their family.  Last year Rav Gav quarantined students from seven different campuses and enlisted ‘troupes’ to accompany the students to their various exam centres.

With the lateness of Shavuot this year, Chaplaincy hoped that Shavuot would be after the exam period and that the added stress to the students would be avoided.  This was indeed the case for most Universities but unfortunately not for all.

One campus found three students with an exam clash, whilst 27 students studying through Open University sought Rabbi Broder’s assistance. He arranged for them to be quarantined in London, Manchester and Gateshead.

As well as contacting the Universities early in the year to inform them of the dates of the Jewish festivals, Chaplaincy submitted articles to the local Jewish press advising students to check their exams dates at an early stage.

The earlier the Chaplains are contacted, the ‘easier’ it is to deal with the issues.  There is a process which needs to be followed and Universities will not accommodate students who, in true student style, leave it to the last minute.

The Board of Deputies greatly helps, particularly with its contacts in Government.  In a letter from the Equality & Human Rights Commission – which followed a communal consultation conducted by the Board – entitled ‘Timetabling of examinations during religious holidays’, it clearly states that: “employers and education providers (must) take a balanced flexible approach towards employees and students who request time off work for religious reasons.

“Under the Equality Act 2006, the Commission has powers to challenge non-compliance and enforce the law where we consider that it is necessary and proportionate.  We expect employers and education providers to acknowledge, understand and discharge their responsibilities under the law”.

The law is clearly on the side of religious practice so should you or anyone you know need assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to contact Chaplaincy on 020 8343 5678 / www.mychaplaincy.co.uk