What’s best at University – living in Jewish halls or branching out?

What’s best at University – living in Jewish halls or branching out?

Sophie Lipton weighs up the benefits of living in Jewish and standard university accommodation

To Hillel house, or not to Hillel house, that is the question…

Advantages of living in standard university accommodation

1.     Open your eyes to new cultures

Break free from the 'Jewish bubble'
Break free from the ‘Jewish bubble’

Living with just Jews means being at the very centre of the ‘Jewish bubble’. Whether studying in Leeds or Birmingham or elsewhere, the atmosphere is still equivalent to Stanmore and Edgware.

So why not burst the bubble, just like Manchester undergraduate, Daniel Solomon. He says: “The true university experience encompasses living with people from all different kinds of background.” Branching out is a fantastic way to make new lifelong friends with people from all walks of life.

After all, your Jewish bubble will not last for eternity (unless you make Aliyah).

2.     Become a Jewish ambassador

Members of Manchester Jsoc promoting Jewish awareness to students around university
Members of Manchester Jsoc promoting Jewish awareness to students around university

Anti-Semitism is a clear and present danger, but this doesn’t mean everyone you meet will be pinning Nazi banners to the doors. From my experience at university, most people are open to new ideas and cultures and want to learn more. So become a Jewish ambassador for these people as many students may have never met a Jew before.

How, as a Jewish community do we expect to tackle negative views if we all live in isolated Hillel houses? Only living together can we turn stereotypes on their head and paint a positive, refreshing perspective of Judaism.

Additionally, living in a secular environment lets a personal Jewish identity grow. For once the reins of parents forcing one to attend festive events are loosened. Actively praying or mixing with Jewish circles can really convey the strength of ones Jewish identity. This may not be established so strongly in a collective Jewish environment like Hillel house.

Therefore sharing a breezeblock wall with a Muslim on one side and a Christian on the other will not taint ones ability to eat a smoked salmon bagel in the future.

3.    Have the best of both worlds

Why not live in standard halls but host Shabbat dinner?
Why not live in standard halls but host Shabbat meals?

Living in secular accommodation does not banish you from kosher campus life. There are constantly advertisements on Facebook about Jsoc events; from Shabbat dinners to bar crawls- the only thing needed to join is Internet connection.

It is possible to find the perfect recipe for a fusion of a Jewish and secular identity, and it’s a great social concoction.

Add chicken soup to the pan, mix in some cultural diversity and bring to the boil until religious and secular lifestyle is intertwined. What’s stopping you? Nothing.

This is why Manchester undergraduate James Graham purposely chose not to live in standard halls. He says “I knew I would get involved with Jsoc so specifically didn’t want to live with Jews. I wanted to have a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish friends”.


Advantages of living in Hillel house/Kosher flats:

Students pose with their 100% kosher shirts

1.     Kosher kitchen nightmares are not a worry:

Having to tell new flatmates that bacon in the frying pan is unacceptable or pork chops on the oven trays is offensive can often make one sound like a stingy pan sharer. “Hi, I’m Sophie, please don’t touch my plates” is not the best first impression.

The kosher conversation to some is crucial and cannot be left simmering in the background.

For me it was a talk I was personally dreading. The only other option was leaving utensils in my room, and accepting that I would become the suspect flatmate who hides pots and pans under the bed for reasons unknown.

The upside of living in Jewish halls is that all this awkward kosher talk is already unpacked.

Jewish students celebrating Chanukah

2.     Jewish is not new(ish)
On a wider note, moving into Hillel house or kosher flats means everyone understands why Friday night dinner is more important than a club night, or why New Year is celebrated in September.

One does not need to have spiels at the ready to describe what the ‘strange brioche bread type thing covered in poppy seeds’ is residing in the kitchen, or why Jsoc is always enticing students with free trips and food.

Whipping out Torah portions to explain certain realms of Judaism won’t be necessary.

3.     Common Jewish ground

Bagels- a common Jewish beverage
Bagels- a common Jewish ground

Sometimes finding things in common with flatmates can be tricky- they are literally chosen like a lucky dip, and you could end up living with a bagel hating, mass murdering anti-Semite.

Loathing a flatmate can also happen in a Jewish setting, but at least common ground can be found by pulling out the Jewish card and playing a little bit of Jewish geography to ease the awkward moments in the hallway.

Birmingham undergraduate, David Robinson believes that it can often be more comforting living with members of the tribe. He states that Jews have “some sort of similar up bringing…so there is always a chance you’ll find people or something in common”.

Choosing Hillel house therefore does act as that extra safety blanket for fresher’s who are living independently yet desire culture comforts.


There you have it. In a nutshell, living with all Jews grants you immediate access to Jewish life, but living in standard flats won’t hinder the amount of chicken soup consumed in a semester.

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