Content warning: antisemitism
A recent study has revealed that Jewish societies in the UK are having to meet in secret, vet attendees, and have security – even police – on the door.
These findings are no surprise for Jewish students. For three years, I have attended JSOC (Jewish Society On Campus) events in Edinburgh. The location is often not revealed until the day of the event. Sometimes the address has been texted to me, sometimes it is sent via Facebook, and occasionally it is in the public domain. Chabad, the external Jewish organisation that offers students a religious home-from-home, can be found on Facebook, but finding the address to their Shabbat dinners is a struggle.
Attending an event run by a society can be intimidating. Going along to JSOC for the first time, I did not know anyone and I was worried about my lack of Jewish knowledge, but I was hungry for free food and to meet Jewish students. But then I had to work out where on earth I was meant to go.
This sorry state of affairs at Edinburgh is mirrored across Jewish societies up and down the country. Even worse, synagogues also have to vet their congregants. In my first year at Edinburgh, I tried to attend the Orthodox synagogue for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. After a long fast, all I wanted was to be around fellow Jews. That evening, on the door, a security measure meant I had to stand in the cold and explain my Jewishness. I felt ostracised in my own community due to security.
I grew up belonging to the Norwich Hebrew Congregation, where a large proportion of the community have had self-defense training. There is round-the-clock CCTV and the community is in frequent contact with the local police force. Such measures can be damaging to the growth of our communities. There are so many barriers to overcome to simply enter a synagogue or attend a JSOC event. Jews on the outside feel alienated when a new face in a Synagogue is cause for suspicion, not celebration.
Yet these measures are entirely necessary. The Jewish security group CST, which monitors antisemitism, found that 2018 was the third year in a row in which antisemitic incidents broke the record, with 1,652 reported incidents. Jews are scared online, in our institutions and even in our places of worship.
Last month, Essex Students’ Association held a vote to ban their JSOC. Several professors at Essex also went on record denying the Holocaust. In Edinburgh, I have sat in antisemitic lectures, been handed a Holocaust denial leaflet and seen antisemitic graffiti. It is no wonder that Jews feel unsafe.
The National Union of Students has made a statement condemning the need for Jewish students to provide their own security. Students’ Associations must support their students and that includes providing security at Jewish events. Our Students’ Association may not be able to change the tide of antisemitism in the UK, but they can and must make a stand to support Jewish students on campus.
Last week, there was a vote at student council proposing that the Students’ Association marks Holocaust Memorial Day. Small measures like this are gradually making Edinburgh increasingly inclusive. However, more must be done to ensure that minorities are not only safe but celebrated on campus.
For now, Jewish students operate in darkness, practising our faith behind locked doors. While this happens in conjunction with incidents up and down the country, our Students’ Association can and must take measures to help its Jewish students.