While there are plenty of stories of Christian students going abroad and strengthening their faith, there are not nearly so many about Jewish students. It was partially this lack of Jewish narratives and partially my strong connection with the Hillel house on my home campus which motivated me to write specifically for Jewish study abroad students. Let me preface this as well by saying that I am not Jewish; however, I have attended many Shabbat services and dinners, baked challah, and have found a place among the Jewish community on campus at Trinity College. I have found the sense of community within the Jewish faith to be its strongest hallmark. This is why I decided to compile a list of things which I hope will help Jewish students in London find a new community in the city, and have fun connecting with their faith.
I interviewed my friend Ari, an IFSA-Butler student studying abroad with me at Queen Mary, University of London, for information as well. She practices Conservative Judaism and is studying psychology and sociology at Franklin & Marshall College. All of these are activities which Ari said have helped her connect with her faith while abroad, and many of them were things recommended to her by family in London or her parents who once lived in the city as well.
1. Visit the Jewish Museum London
The museum includes rare items of Jewish ceremonial art, a Holocaust gallery, and a medieval Mikveh at the entrance of the museum. However, my favorite exhibit was the recreation of the Victorian Jewish Quarter which was in London’s East End. The museum is a great place for Jewish students looking to learn more about Jewish history in England, and offers additional information about walking tours, lectures, and cultural events in the city.
2. Visit Ben Uri
Ben Uri is the London Jewish museum of art, and is the only museum in all of Europe to focus specifically on Jewish art. Their collection includes over 1300 works from over 400 artists and 40 countries of origin. The museum is located in north London and is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon with a friend.
3. Search for the Best Falafel in London
Or if falafel isn’t your thing search for the best kugel or brisket! Whatever your favorite quintessentially-Jewish dish is – the one that reminds you of home and your mother’s cooking – find that in the city. It’s a great challenge to embark on with your friends, it gets you out of your flat and into the city exploring, and at the end you get to eat some really good food! My recommendation would be Fiori Corner in Leicester Square for a late night falafel-filled pita.
4. Attend Services
This one may seem a tad obvious but it’s something students often overlook when thinking about things to do in the city. Not only will help you to reconnect with your faith and center yourself in an exciting and sometimes stressful new chapter of your life, but it will help you to find a community offering support. For Ari attending services allowed her to “find a home away from home” and a place where should could connect with others of her faith. If you’re looking for synagogues near Queen Mary, check out Sandy’s Row Synagogue. It’s a beautiful, historic synagogue and only a fifteen minute tube ride away.
5. Visit Chanukah Celebrations
There is a huge celebration in Trafalgar Square each year with lights and live music and lots of people. Also if you venture to Golders Green station you can see the lighting of the tallest Chanukiah in London. Lightings take place each evening there at 6 pm for the duration of Chanukah. In north London there is also a Chanukah on Ice Silent Disco, complete with wine and doughnuts which is put on by JW3 (a Jewish cultural center), featuring lights and lots of fun for you and your friends during the holiday season.
This list is really just the starting point for Jewish students studying abroad in London. There are so many more exciting activities and events to take part in which will strengthen their faith and help them find a community in the city. As Ari said to me of her time here, “I’ve visited a lot of things already, but there’s a ton more stuff to do here.” So have fun with your time abroad and make sure to take in some of the many Jewish historical and cultural experiences along the way!
Tessa Reading is an English major at Trinity College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Queen Mary, University of London in 2017. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.