As the new University year draws nearer, it is time to welcome in new UJS President Ella Rose and say goodbye to Joe Tarsh after a year packed full of exciting achievements.
Middlesex University student Leanne Mitchell gets an overview of Joe’s highlights plus the low-down from Ella on her big plans for the new role.
Joe Tarsh: “It’s been one of the best years of my life”
Joe grew up in Radlett and was an active member of the Jewish Community from a young age. He was a proud boger (graduate) of Bnei Akiva and has participated in programmes run by EUJS, Schusterman Foundation, Tribe, Aish, Moishe House and Limmud. Since moving to Israel recently, Joe has changed his name from Joe Tarsh to Yosef Tarshish, as ‘Israelis find ‘Joe’ hard to pronounce’…
What have you achieved as President of UJS in the last year?
Being President of UJS was one of the best years of my life. It enabled me to help support 8,500 students studying within the UK and Ireland and connect with an array of students with different Jewish identities. I am particularly proud of the way in which our students stand up for their rights on campus and engage with Israel. 1,100 students across 40 campuses participated in UJS Israel Engagement programmes in the last academic year.
Have you seen any changes in Jewish life on campus over the course of your year as President? Have campuses become more or less tolerant?
Over the past year we have seen a huge increase in the number of students engaging meaningfully with their Jewish identity on campus. We saw 8 new Jewish Societies established and a massive boost to our activist base.
The subject of tolerance always raises questions but I would say on the whole that campuses have become a more tolerant space to be Jewish. This was helped enormously by projects such as the 2013-2014 UJS flagship campaign “Jewish Experience Week”, which engaged over 3,500 students across 25+ campuses.
What was your highlight of working at UJS?
Most definitely travelling up and down the country meeting so many amazing students, but also strangely enough my final week in the job was incredibly powerful, watching Ella begin her journey and feeling confident that I gave her the best possible foundations on which she can build UJS even higher. I’m even more excited about watching the union develop from afar.
Could you have envisaged yourself becoming President of UJS?
If you asked me when I was 16 I would have laughed at you. By 21 when I ran for election I think I could definitely see myself in the role, but I never expected to win. I actually cried on stage at UJS Conference 2012 when it was announced!
Ella Rose: “My focus is not about bringing students to UJS, but about bringing UJS to the students”
Ella grew up in Bushey where she was regularly involved in BBYO. Over the past couple of summers she has been a camp counsellor at Camp JCA Shalom in California. Throughout her time at university she was the Campaigns Officer for Nottingham J-Soc and a member of UJS National Council.
Could you ever have envisaged yourself becoming President of UJS?
At UJS conference in 2013, the then President Alex Green came up to me and told me that I would become UJS President. I laughed in his face.
But in reality I was inspired by the incredible work Alex and his predecessors had put in on campus and I slowly came to believe that I was capable of this. Campaigning was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but it also taught me so much about UJS and myself as a potential leader.
It’s an awesome job and I hope I can fill the big spaces left behind by my amazing predecessors. I can’t wait for the year ahead, so watch this space – we can’t wait to work with all the vibrant students on campus.
What are your aims and plans for this year?
I am going to be focusing a lot on representation and accountability, strengthening the Union’s structures. It is not about bringing students to UJS, it is about bringing UJS to the students. This is going to be done through online feedback systems and improved checks and balances.
I am also focusing on Women in Leadership and setting up a Year Abroad Study Network; issues which have received fantastic feedback and are incredibly important to our students.
Do you think Jewish students will be facing worse incidents of anti-Semitism on campuses this year?
Historically, where there are undefined parameters to boycott campaigns, the targets become indiscriminate and Jewish students face the brunt. Our utmost priority is the safety of Jewish students on campus and we have been working with our community partners to ensure that is the case.
UJS has a brilliant and dedicated campaigns team who are there to support students on campus and coordinate national campaigns on campuses where they see fit. I have no doubt that whatever is needed of the UJS Campaigns Team this coming year, they can rise to the challenge and help Jewish students feel secure and comfortable on campus.
What’s your advice to Jewish students worried about their identity when starting Uni, especially given the backlash to the current Gaza conflict?
Jewish students should not feel the need to hide their identities on campus. Students Unions are designed to be inclusive, tolerant and safe spaces where all students feel comfortable no matter of their religion, political beliefs, gender, sexuality or anything else. If they fail to live up to this, then contact your J-Soc or the UJS Campaigns Team.
What is your reaction to NUS’ passing of the anti-Israel BDS motion? Will UJS be fighting this?
UJS has vocally condemned the NUS’ passing of BDS. NUS NEC have passed a policy that will only divide student groups, undermine interfaith relations, and suffocate progressive voices for peace on both sides. UJS is mandated to combat BDS and we will continue to do so on campuses when it is necessary.
Are there any new campaigns in particular which UJS is going to set up this year?
J.E.W (Jewish Experience Week) was a new campaign which was launched in 2013. It smashed the perception that Jews were afraid to be openly Jewish on campus. Over a hundred students wore loud t-shirts with J.E.W on the front and 100% Kosher on the back. This reached over 3,500 students on campus.
We worked really hard to tackle these issues of security on campus, and we are constantly thinking about this in all of our plans. This year is going to be really exciting for campaigns. You’ll have to wait and see!
Are there any particular charities that you are hoping to strengthen your connection with or hope to raise money for this year?
The money raised for Save a Child’s Heart last year was incredible. Our link to this charity is going to continue throughout the year and I can’t wait to see the variety of innovative programmes which students can run to raise money for this fantastic cause.
Social action is definitely going to be a focus this year. Think Mitzvah Day, think volunteering, think tikkun olam.