Meet the three female student leaders battling to become UJS president
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Meet the three female student leaders battling to become UJS president

As the Union of Jewish Students prepares to mark its 100th birthday, we hear from presidential candidates Lauren Kieles, Esther Offenberg and Joanna Phillips

Top: Lauren Keiles, Esther Offenberg, Bottom: Joanna Phillips, UJS logo
Top: Lauren Keiles, Esther Offenberg, Bottom: Joanna Phillips, UJS logo

For the first time in its 99-year history, all candidates battling for the title of president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) are women.

Voting began this week and ends on Friday, 7 December. But before then, Lauren Keiles from the University of Leeds, Joanna Phillips from the University of Bath and Esther Offenberg from the University of Birmingham have to run the Jewish News gauntlet.

Who will get your vote? Will it be scuba-diving Deputy Keiles? Will it be Israeli psychologist Offenberg? Or will it be feminist Jewdas activist Phillips?

Once again, we ask the toughest questions to sift the mensch from the schmendrick…

Q. Jewish News (JN): What does being Jewish mean to you?

Lauren: Disagreeing over the pronunciation of bagel (or beigel), our views on Israel and everything in between, but having an international community where food and bad jokes are guaranteed.

Esther: Sharing cultural traditions and practices dating back thousands of years and celebrating the diversity among us.

Joanna: Having been present at Mount Sinai. It’s sharing history with my fellow Jews, being proud of my ancestry and attempting to live up to my heritage.

Q: You get in the lift with Jeremy Corbyn. What do you say?

Joanna: Will you commit to writing off our student debt when you make education free? And thanks for the maror.

Esther: Put an end to this hollow lip service and practice what you preach. Take action and responsibility and set a positive example for the younger generation.

Lauren: My grandma Marie said I can invite anyone to Shabbat dinner except you.

Lauren Keiles

Q: What’s the best and worst thing about Israel? 

Esther: The best is its diversity. The worst is its inequality.

Joanna: Israel is my favourite of the patriarchs. The best thing about him is his God-wrestling where he earns the name of Israel. The worst is his insensitivity when replying to his wife Rachel’s distress over her inability to conceive. He is still part of the patriarchy at the end of the day.

Lauren: The best is the hummus. The worst is the irresponsible queuing.

Q: When did you use chutzpah such that your parents would be proud?

Lauren: When I did voice-over for a cartoon show called Gracie Lou, which was shown in more than 20 countries, despite having no experience or training. I’m not a diva, but I did blag my way to the role.

Esther: I dressed as a chicken and sang in front of 1,000 people at the National Union of Students conference when running for a senior position. I lost my dignity – and won.

Joanna: When running the 800 metres at sports day. Being a metropolitan nerdy type of Jew, rather than a sabra, a friend and I turned it into an egg-and-spoon race, sneaking the required items onto the track hidden in our jumpers.

Joanna Phillips

Q: When did you use chutzpah in a way your parents weren’t proud of/don’t know about yet?

Joanna: In New York last year, my roommate and I hated doing chores so much we used a fetish website to find a submissive man to clean our flat for free. It was wonderful. He’d show up once every two weeks, spend three hours doing a fantastic job – really making the place spotless – then leave.

Lauren: [Didn’t answer question]

Esther: I ran through a field of wheat.

Q: What’s the one thing you’ll definitely have changed after your year as UJS president?

Lauren: How many tunes our union knows for Lecha Dodi and how tenuous a theme for a Friday night dinner can be (very).

Joanna: I’ll have made significant headway in the difficult but essential task of healing our relationships with other marginalised groups, both within and beyond the Jewish
community.

Esther: I want every Students’ Union to work with their JSoc to have a commemoration event for Holocaust Memorial Day.

Esther Offenberg

Q: What’s the best Jewish dish you’ve ever tasted?

Esther: My aba’s special latkes – I’m buzzing to have them next week.

Lauren: My mum’s a triple threat. She sings, tap dances and – most importantly – makes the best kneidlach balls in all of Ruislip.

Joanna: My grandmother makes an amazing chicken soup. I break my commitment to vegetarianism and my commitment to BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] to eat it with those bright yellow Osem croutons.

It’s glorious: indulgent, fatty kneidlach, plenty of lokshen, carrots, a generous helping of croutons and extra salt sneaked in behind my grandmother’s back. It tastes like love.

Q: Complete this sentence – ‘Jewish students need to ….. more.’

Joanna: … Remember life exists outside their JSoc…

Esther: … Celebrate their identity…

Lauren: …Fight for universities and unions to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism…

Q: Describe yourself in one word ending in –ist.

Esther: Pluralist.

Joanna: Diasporist.

Lauren: Optimist.

Q: How will you celebrate if you win?

Esther: Apply for a work visa.

Lauren: Go to Australia – hopefully to celebrate as the next UJS President, and if not, to hide in the outback and train until there’s a vacancy at the Australian UJS.

Joanna: The Jewish left is famous for throwing great parties, but this one will go down in history. Expect the best in Jewish drag acts, live music, klezmer, as much alcohol as my student loan can buy, a chocolate fountain, fire-eaters, Sir Elton John jumping out a cake, shofar shots, fireworks, ice sculptures, the ghost of Emma Goldman and chicken soup to cure the hangovers the next day. Your grandchildren will ask you if you were at this party.

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