By Danielle Agami, Birmingham.
Freshers week is of course one to remember, or possibly not for some.
For some students it’s the first time they will experience what it’s like to be intoxicated for two weeks straight. This, infused with pre-drinks, parties and after parties, makes it far more difficult for someone to uphold any sort of Jewish practice. But luckily, in the midst of all the drinking and partying, you can still find ways to engage spiritually.
During the first week of Freshers at Birmingham we were introduced to the Chaplaincy Rabbi – Rabbi and Esther Cohen; the Genesis pioneers- Rabbi and Alli Sturges, and of course the Chabad missionaries, Rabbi and Rivki Cherruf. The most surreal thing about these amazing people is that they could be living in the comfortable Jewish afflux that is North London, but they choose not to.
They choose not to because they literally devote their lives to preserving the essence of Judaism sought by some Jewish student. Many students also work hard to maintain this connection whilst on campus. J-Socs organise their own Friday Night Dinners, often koshering cooking spaces, double wrapping chickens and preparing kosher feasts for their peers by themselves. I look up to these volunteers because not that many people offer their time to do service within their community or choose
In a Jewish high school, religion is always thought of as a stringency that vacuums the happiness out of life – keeping kosher could mean you can’t eat at the usual hangouts where the ‘cool’ people are, Shabbat is looked at as a day of boredom, the Fast days are seen as some sort of self-inflicted torture, and all rabbis just seem judgmental.
This in fact is far from the truth.
After going to university and experiencing what it’s like to be outside the Jewish bubble, you start to realize the beauty of religion and practice because you’re not constantly surrounded by it.
The Jewish organisations who work with students on campus help to give those who want it, a spiritual boost when they need it. These people utilize their time to get Jewish students together a few times a week creating familiar surroundings, without force-feeding them any details of religion they might not be open to.
These phenomenal organisations bring highly renowned motivational speakers, some of which do not even mention the word ‘Jewish’ but are just there to build everyone’s faith and confidence – something that was left out in the Jewish teaching syllabus in high school.
I for one have come to realize that keeping kosher helps me keep my identity, fast days are a time to thank G-d that we have it so good, Shabbat is a time to ditch that iPhone or ps4 and focus on self-growth and interaction between friends that need it. Having the opportunity to spiritually engage with Judaism whilst on campus has helped me to affirm these beliefs.
A lot of non-Jewish friends of mine on campus actually looked at me in awe after explaining the Sabbath, whilst their life clock is constantly ticking, we have a very special day with family and G-d, they compared it to having a ‘Christmas every week’. These are to name but a few realizations of Judaism I and many others have come to.
There is a reason these Jewish student events have such a large turnout – teenagers are compelled with emotion but do not like to be told what to do.
The inspirational organisations working with Jewish students and the student leaders who facilitate Jewish activities for their peers, display an act of only love and joy for religion that all of us could aspire to mirror.