Thousands of Jewish mothers are about to tell their heavily-laden 18-year olds not to forget to call, as they stuff more frozen chicken soup into a bag that’s already full and shed a tear as the car pulls away.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the little bubbeleh leaves for university.
All the histrionics will be familiar to those who have been through the process already. But for those to whom this is new and bewildering, the Jewish News can help, by stepping into the void of uncertainty and offering some helpful advice from hardened Jewish students.
“Leave your door open on your first day in halls,” says Ben Salamon, formerly of Exeter University. “People WILL come in and say hello. The people you meet on Day One will become some of your best friends.”
It’s a similar message from ex-Nottingham student Roxy Kaye, who reminds freshers that “everyone else is in the exact same situation as you”.
Her story is particularly resonant, telling of how she overcame her innate shyness to make friends.
“On my first day, after my parents abandoned me to race home for a wedding, I decided that for this one week I would not be the shy, quiet Jewish girl everyone knew me as.
“Walking into the common room, with the exception of a few faces I recognised from summer camps, I saw a sea of strange faces. Completely out of character, I walked over to a group of girls, sat myself down in their circle and introduced myself. Those girls ended up being my housemates for the last two years of university.”
With the universities’ start dates only weeks away, Jewish first-timers are likely to be preoccupied with research over of coming days, grappling with some of life’s bigger questions, such as: “Am I strong enough to get through this?” and “Is that garlic crusher really necessary?”
The thrill of Freshers’ Week, and of your Quidditch Society starter pack, outshines all else in the early days. Thereafter, there are a few other things to consider. For example, where do you go when your flatmates don’t get all those Yiddish terms you keep using?
The uni Jewish society, say those who know, is an important port of call.
Miriam Katz, a University of Reading student, recalls how her Jewish society (or J-Soc) organised a plethora of activities in her first few days.
“In my first week I found myself at a meet-and-greet social in the university pub, the second week at a Friday night dinner, the third at a ‘Lunch and Learn’ with the local rabbi and the fourth planning a Mitzvah Day food collection at the local Sainsbury’s,” she says, with an exhausted look.
“They give you the chance to mix with other Jewish students and celebrate Jewish festivals and traditions,” says Jo Hanna Watts, who studied at Lampeter and who now works for the Union of Jewish Students, adding that her smaller Jewish student society regularly joined up with larger J-Socs for events such as the Purim Ball.
This being university, respondents were keen to emphasise the social element to the Jewish societies, from the ‘Jews’ Booze Cruise’ down. But J-Socs also host less debauched events, featuring speakers, quizzes, comedy nights, local visits and lots of Shabbat meals.
However, although Jewish life is usually within easy reach, there are still difficulties for students to overcome.
“Keeping Kosher in halls can be a challenge,” admits Katz. “I keep my dishes separate and cover food that I put in the shared oven. If you are in kosher accommodation it’s even easier, but I would suggest that you make the most of the opportunity to mix with people from different backgrounds, because you may never get such an opportunity again.”
In other areas, it seems some of the issues we hear about are overblown. Anti-Semitism on campus is not the concern it once was, said the students, but there is still the occasional incident with which to contend, such as when visiting Israelis are harassed off stage.
Of course, it works both ways, and this year’s intake may be lucky enough to witness another student debate featuring George Galloway, in which he is upended by another ‘Israeli in disguise.’ Well, there has to be some benefits to doing very little for three to four years….