This quarter, a new group of liberal Jews have been introduced to the UCLA campus: The Jewish Student Union. “Over the last few years there have been discussions surrounding what does Jewish community on campus mean,” said Sachi Cooper, UCLA senior and founder of the Jewish Student Union.
To Cooper, the Jewish Student Union is a group focused on creating a space for both Jewish and non-Jewish students to connect with their Jewish culture, as well as to create and promote well-rounded discussions about a variety of topics that connect to Judaism. What sets JSU apart, though, is that it is entirely student-run.
“We’re trying to both be an independent space, fully self-funded, and a space that’s growing and changing with the group of students that are part of it,” Cooper remarked.
She emphasized that lately, there has been discussion of who is included and excluded from being able to label themselves as Jews on college campuses. The biggest barrier Cooper has found for Jewish students in existing spaces was the requirement to vehemently support Israel.
“The consensus is whether you’re pro-Israel or just leering about it, at the end of your time at UCLA, you should be pro-Israel, going on birthright and making aliyah,” Cooper said.
“We feel that Judaism isn’t about Israel no matter what spiritual connection we have to it. We felt that our space allows so much space for questioning that wasn’t allowed in other spaces.”
The conversation about Israel opened up bigger conversations about the other pitfalls in existing Jewish spaces on campus. Cooper and other Jewish students began to think about what it means to have a more inclusive community for Jews of different identities. Whether it was Jews of color or Jews with disabilities, they said they wanted to find a space to bring these identities to the forefront of their conversations.
“I think it’s [what’s important] because there is a large but invisible group who don’t feel comfortable and connected to the institutional Jewish spaces on campus for a variety of reasons,” Cooper said. “Every Jewish student deserves to feel comfortable on campus whether or not they feel like they fit into that mold.”
Students come to campus with different levels of knowledge of what Judaism is and how they connect with it. Cooper said with the Jewish Student Union, she hopes that students are introduced to Judaism outside the confines of current Jewish spaces.
“I was introduced to one straightforward approach to Judaism,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t encapsulate the diversity of Jewish thought and identity. We want students to meet each other and learn from other students and think about the ways their own personal version of Judaism connects to their other identities and things they’re interested in.”
Through the Jewish Student Union, Cooper wants to create an environment for people to formulate a strong and diverse view of what Judaism is, that they can carry with them through college and beyond.
Most of the events JSU has held this quarter have been Shabbat dinners and discussions. These events will continue to be held into the next quarter, as well as some programming surrounding different Jewish social justice issues. To get involved, email [email protected] to be added to the GroupMe.
As Cooper looks toward the future of JSU, she thinks about the type of Jewish community she wants to cultivate:
“I hope to create a Jewish community that is thinking about the questions that affect the world in a way that’s uplifting lots of different communities, not just our own.”