My best friend is a Mus­lim

Emily Rhodes finds cam­pus Jews sur­pris­ingly nar­row-minded and says prej­u­dice starts in class­rooms

The Jewish Chronicle - - & Comment Analysis -

Jewish schools can leave peo­ple com­pletely un­pre­pared for univer­sity life. I re­alised this af­ter ven­tur­ing into Ox­ford’s J-Soc where, among some familiar faces, I met stu­dents who had no non-Jewish friends what­so­ever. Th­ese stu­dents had been to Jewish schools, lived in Jewish ar­eas and were used to Jewish friends; they felt un­der­stand­ably over­whelmed when thrown into a univer­sity where most peo­ple were very mid­dle-Eng­land and had not heard of Stam­ford Hill.

Univer­sity is tra­di­tion­ally the time when life opens out: a thresh­old on to a big­ger, if scarier, world. Ar­riv­ing from an ex­clu­sively Jewish back­ground and find­ing your­self to be one of many mi­nori­ties amid a sea of white Chris­tian stu­dents must be an in­tim­i­dat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

This is why, al­though some­what clin­i­cal and un­re­al­is­tic, di­ver­sity quo­tas for schools are es­sen­tially a good idea. Chil­dren need to be com­fort­able with those who are re­li­giously or racially dif­fer­ent from them; oth­er­wise they face a fu­ture of fear­ing the un­known.

I was dis­tinctly un­der­whelmed when I be­gan at Ox­ford. I had been at a Lon­don day school where I was sur­rounded by chil­dren from di­verse back­grounds: In­dian, Welsh, Chi­nese, black, white, Cana­dian, Ira­nian, Ara­bic, Jewish and Hindu… a huge mix­ture. I no­ticed a dis­tinct re­duc­tion in this di­ver­sity when I moved to Ox­ford, where 90 per cent of un­der­grad­u­ates are white and the ma­jor­ity were Chris­tian.

Thanks to an up­bring­ing within such di­ver­sity, I did not think twice about mix­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, be they Chris­tian or Jew, Hindu or Mus­lim, black or white.

I met my Mus­lim best friend for lunch ev­ery Fri­day, which be­came a key event for me in the messy puzzle of univer­sity. De­spite be­ing from two reli­gions that are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly po­larised, there was never any short­age of com­mon ground. We both came from back­grounds that place a strong em­pha­sis on fam­ily; I un­der­stood in­stantly the pres­sure on her to have a Mus­lim boyfriend; and we both ate ba­con sand­wiches and then teased each other for be­ing a bad Jew or Mus­lim.

We some­times joked that the two of us were start­ing the peace process and won­dered what would hap­pen if ev­ery Mus­lim were to meet a Jew for a weekly lunch.

This friend­ship did not seem re­motely un­usual to me, but many of the less open-minded Jews I met were shocked. They had never spo­ken to a Mus­lim, and were stunned when I told them that she did not try to con­vert me to Is­lam or pick fights about Is­rael.

In­deed, she un­der­stands some of the Jewish as­pects of my life bet­ter than any­one, and is my first port of call when in a dilemma about fa­mil­ial duty or a suit­able boyfriend.

She of­fers a phe­nom­e­nally un­der­stand­ing friend­ship, and gives me the op­por­tu­nity to ap­pre­ci­ate di­ver­sity’s com­mon ground.

Bring­ing di­ver­sity into schools would help more tra­di­tional Jews wel­come this kind of op­por­tu­nity, rather than stick­ing my­opi­cally to that which is familiar, nar­row-minded, and, quite frankly, prej­u­diced.

We in­vite sub­mis­sions of 500 words for this open-to-all slot and pay £90 for those pub­lished. Email edi­to­

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.