As a Jewish student who was born and raised in Italy, lived in Israel for one year and then studied for his university degree in the United Kingdom and in the United States, I feel that I have experienced to a large extent what the World Union of Jewish Students aims to build and represent. Throughout these experiences, I have had the opportunity to see, feel and enjoy different Jewish perspectives in different communities around the world, from the relative small ones in Italy, to the state of Israel, ending with the student communities in Manchester and in UMass, Amherst.
All these different experiences, with their new environments and challenges have been possible only through a strong and solid base which I found in the young Jewish communities around the world. Independently from where I found myself at any point in time, I have always experienced very welcoming Jewish student communities, which allowed me to create quick friendships and to integrate into these new environments. As a result, I have come to recognise that being a minority, especially while at University, is not a disadvantage at all. On the contrary, it is a great fortune.
In Italy, for example, despite the small size of the Jewish population, young Jews manage to keep easily in contact with one another, through the activities organised by the UGEI (Union of Italian Young Jews). Each year, Jewish students can count on Lag B’Omer barbeques, Purim parties and winter ski trips in order to meet other Jewish youth from all over the country.
In Israel, young Jews are excited to meet foreign Jewish young people as much as they are excited to meet Israeli students and soldiers. Additionally, from falafel and shwarma to barbeques on the beach, to Israeli buses which take people from the furthest reaches of Israel, foreign Jewish youngsters have the possibility to see how a Jewish state works in reality and understand that, while Israel is not always the land of “milk and honey” we hope it can be, it always has something special that no other country in the world can share.
In Manchester, while the number of Jewish students has been decreasing in the past years, the Jewish student population remains incredibly active with Friday night dinners, cultural talks, club nights and a lot of free food which invite Jewish students from the different universities within the city to come together and enjoy their university life with other Jewish students on campus. The Jewish Society in Manchester has become, over the past three years, a kind of a second family for all of us.
Finally, in the US at the University of Massachusetts, I expected to encounter a very disperse Jewish student population due to the high number of Jewish students enrolled. On the contrary, once again, I gladly found out that, no matter the size of the Jewish population, Jewish students are always excited to meet other Jews and I immediately felt part of the local community to the point that, to be honest, I still from time to time check what events are taking place at UMass.
All these experiences have made me realise that, even if Jewish students are dispersed all over around the globe, we are always united by a strong sense of belonging, a common tradition and a special bond that cannot be found in any other group and probably cannot even be explained rationally. As a result, today I consider myself part of the Italian, Israeli, British and American Jewish student communities.
The work done by the World Union of Jewish Students is essential for many different reasons. We, as Jewish students, face increasingly difficult challenges on campus, from episodes of anti-Semitism to attempts to delegitimise Israel, to simple issues which might affect all students alike. Only if we are united, can we find stronger and broader allies and friends within the student community.
We, as Jewish students, wherever we are, have something that not many people can count on while at University. We have a second family of students from all over the world who share our identity, worries and moments of celebration. Therefore, both in times of joy and difficulty on our campuses, we should always remember that we can rely on a strong network of Jewish students throughout the world for help and support.
Emanuele Boccia is a third year student at the University of Manchester. He is a former Campaigns Officer for Manchester Jewish Society and will begin working as the Israel Engagement Officer of the Union of Jewish Students of the UK & Ireland in the Summer.
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