By Amy Hirst, 2nd year Medical Science student at the University of Birmingham
Being only an hour’s train journey away, the moment I accepted my place at the University of Birmingham, my stereotypically overprotective, yet loving mother could not have been happier.
Obviously if it were up to her I would have gone to a London-based university and commuted daily from home. However, given the circumstances, this was her most ideal outcome.
She demanded that I was to instantly decide on the weekends that I would be returning home, in order for her put the dates into her diary and pre-plan all of my favourite Friday night dinners.
I can imagine the fear of letting your child out into the wider world is a feeling that many parents can relate to, even if some are not so forward in expressing those emotions. It is also a fairly daunting, albeit exciting prospect for those who are about to embark on their university experience.
Having taken a gap year, I was all too aware that despite recognising a couple of faces from younger years at school, I did not actually know a single person. However, now having just finished my second year, despite my reservations, I could not be happier.
Birmingham is considered as one of four main “Jewniversties”, along with Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester. The thriving Jewish community is in no way forced upon you and the extent to which it plays a part in your time at university is very much a personal decision.
In my case, a huge proportion of my positive experiences so far can without doubt be accounted for by the overwhelming warmth of the local Jewish community.
It is the daily dedication and kindness of Rabbi Fishel and Esther Cohen and of the local Aish family; Dan and Alli Sturgess and all of their gorgeous children, whom truly make Birmingham a home from home.
They make sure not a single festival or Friday night go unrecognised and it cannot be expressed how much time and compassion they have for every single student. They are admired by everyone who meets them.
The J-Soc committee and leaders of the Genesis programme also organise a huge variety of events, both recreational and educational, on a weekly basis.
No one who is regularly present is a stranger to the underlying, unspoken rule of attendance. Once you pass through the doors, you essentially commit yourself as a participant in a mass shidduch, dating frenzy.
If you dare to even venture within the peripheral vision of a member of the opposite sex, you know you will be immediately assessed in terms of your future husband/wife potential.
This is unsurprising given that your typical Jewish grandparent will pose the question enquiring as to whether you have found a new boyfriend/girlfriend, at the approximate but realistic rate of about twenty-five times an hour. Social media, in particular Facebook, also plays an extremely important role in this process.
Prior to even approaching an individual, the typical procedure of assessment consists of; spot from afar, gather information via any means of social media accessible and if you like what you see, discuss potential compatibility with any mutual friends.
However, it is not always as plain sailing as it sounds. To my intense mortification, the “mutual friend” step went dramatically awry when I found myself accidently direct messaging the “David Cohen” I had hardly met ten minutes earlier, with the sentence “Who is David Cohen?” – at which point all potential future prospects came to an abrupt and humiliating end.
Despite these potential pitfalls, ultimately Facebook is just another platform by which the community remains so strong.
As well as a way to publicise events, there are numerous groups such as the “Need a lift?” group, which boasts over 1000 predominantly Jewish members, who look out for each other and offer lifts to one another when driving from one city to the next.
Overall, Birmingham provides a caring and unbeatable Jewish community and even if you do not wish to get involved, you can be confident in knowing that it will always be there with open arms if you need it to be – shidduch or no shidduch.