By Max SHERRARD, President of Leeds J-Soc and a religiously Orthodox boy from North West London.
Having returned from a year out to study in a yeshiva (an intense religious seminary for males), it can truly be said that I am part of the Orthodox group on campus; or, in more colloquial terms – the ‘frum’ lot.
Being in Leeds I have the option to pray with a minyan; can spend a fair amount of time studying Talmud and Tanakh; have the benefit of kosher groceries being sold on campus where there is also a Jewish Chaplain, an Aish Rabbi, a Chabad Rabbi and organised Shabbat services.
These are just a few of the ways in which religious Jewish observance on campus takes place and that it makes Jewish Orthodox life compatible with student life. So why is it then that there is an increasing trend of religiously Orthodox teenagers not applying to go to universities away from home?
There is an increasing trend of ‘frum’ boys and girls not leaving their home town to study, and, on the whole, staying in London.
Leeds, a university with an incredibly large active Jewish student body, and with a history of having a strong and dedicated Orthodox group of students, is slowly seeing less and less religious students applying to the university.
This is a trend that is prevalent in Manchester and Birmingham too. But what is the reason for it?
Many people attribute it to the economic situation and people not being able to afford to leave home.
Another possible contributor is the cut backs in the infrastructure for Hillel and J-Soc. As of last year, Hillel House does not have any Kosher residences. This is just an example of what can turn Orthodox people away from the university, and rightly so.
But I strongly feel that these are simply outcomes of a deeper problem, a problem which is that the Rabbinical leadership of teenagers and high school students try to suggest that by not living at home or in London, one is unable to be ‘frum’.
Rabbis involved in youth movements, schools as well as Yeshivas and Seminaries (female equivalent of Yeshiva) have a great influence upon the decisions of teenagers over which university they go to.
It is commonly said that by choosing to live away from home you will be persuaded to go ‘off-the-derech’ (off the path of Orthodoxy) and that life is hard. Theses assumptions could not be more wrong. There are so many organisations that are involved to allow Jewish students to study in the university that is most suited to them, and enable them to lead the life that they feel most comfortable doing so.
Being religious is a personal journey, and students are at a time in their life when they can choose their own religious path.
The way that many Rabbis work is that they have a final push to keep Jewish boys and girls leading lives that the Rabbis approve of, and not those that are most appropriate for the individual. Students get labelled ‘frum’ or ‘reform’ or ‘egalitarian’ and therefore feel that they can only go to a certain university.
Students should choose their university on where they can study the best course for them and that will stand them in good stead for their adult life.
Jewish society and having a strong Jewish community is important, and I am not trying to claim that it shouldn’t have such high value.
But for a student it is unfair for people to claim that one should stay in the community they are in and that moving to a student community will be at the detriment to their own religious Jewish identity.[divider]
Max Sherrard is the newly elected President of Leeds J-Soc. There are close to 1000 Jewish students currently studying at Leeds. Many of them, regardless of their religious affiliation, engage with their Jewish identities by joining the university J-Soc. Student-leaders like Max help to facilitate activities to suit all members, from religiously-themed lunch and learns to Friday Night Dinners, guest speakers from all denominations, debates, parties, sports events and much, much more.
You can find out more information about Leeds Jewish Society at http://www.ujs.org.uk/jsocs/view/261/leeds-university/