Jsocs work hard to sustain Jewish life on campus in face of pandemic pressures

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Jsocs work hard to sustain Jewish life on campus in face of pandemic pressures

As university students head back to halls, lectures and freshers' week under the cloud of Covid, we find out how young Jews are keeping social and cultural activities going

Tali is a reporter at Jewish News

University of Nottingham's Trent Building
University of Nottingham's Trent Building

The student experience has been somewhat put on hold during coronavirus with lectures online and clubbing banned, but what does it mean for Jewish life on campus?

New Covid legislation has scuppered a number of Jsoc plans. Josh Collins, President of the University of Nottingham’s Jsoc, said that they had planned events to move back into reality from being online for six months, but the new rule of six has meant students being back together on campus, but still having to go online for events.

“I have personally found it very challenging trying to cater to the current environment quite often, we are just doing the best we can”, he said.

Nottingham Jsoc say that they have been working with Chabad and the Chaplaincy, together with the Union of Jewish Students, to make sure a Jewish student experience is still provided.

UJS organised a Jsoc Chazon day as training for committees to help Jsocs air their concerns, work together and create new initiatives during coronavirus. The issue highlighted the most by committee members: what happens to Friday night dinners? Students first suggestion was to come up with a plan, alongside chaplains, for Friday night takeaways across campus.

The chaplains for Leeds, Yorkshire and Nottingham, Eli and Shevi Grunewald, say they are doing all they can to support Jsoc committees’ ideas and have found themselves providing more help than ever this year, under coronavirus. As I spoke to them, they were prepping dinners for self-isolating students to drop outside of their doors.

“Parents are getting in touch about their kids and expecting to get Shabbat dinner”, but “students are being very resilient”, they say. The Grunewalds are hopeful that whether it be dropping food off for Friday night takeaways or socially distanced events, a semblance of Jewish life will remain on campus.

Some students are still concerned though. Annie Steadman, a student from Manchester with a place at the University of Cambridge, has deferred starting for a year because of “the probability of not getting the full university experience”.

Cambridge University

Sabrina Miller, a third-year student at the University of Bristol, said concerns were understandable as “Jsoc for me is first and foremost a social society. The Friday night dinners, the Jsoc pres and the lunch’n’learns.

“As a result of Covid restrictions the most important parts of Bristol Jsoc won’t be able to function legally for at least the next 6 months and that is a true shame.”

Shiri Wolff, communications office for UJS, said that they are “seeing Jsocs struggle” without the ability to plan social events ahead of time, due to changing guidelines.

“Jsoc is a very social atmosphere, it is not just about religion but also culture. It gives Jewish students a crucial space to be Jewish however they see fit”, she said.

Jewish societies across the country say they are doing everything they can to continue providing for students. Leeds Jsoc even put together an event where freshers were divided into groups of five and given a route to follow around campus, walking to each important Jewish location where they would, socially distanced, meet a member of the committee, never in a group bigger than six.

While it may be difficult, as UJS and the chaplaincies recognise, most Jsocs are doing their all to maintain a Jewish social life on campus.

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