Keeping my Jewish identity whilst working in Student Media
Blog adapted from speech at UJS Conference, February 3rd 2023
By Matty Fisher, Head of Live @ LSTV
Last September, I started at the University of Leeds and subsequently joined Leeds Student Radio and TV. At first, I hid my Jewish identity due to the negative stereotypes of Jews working in the media, but as time went on it became harder and I thought I might as well open up about it. Since I did, it has only been positive with being asked to help make our content more inclusive and welcoming to different religions. Let me give you some examples of what we’ve done to make it both more welcoming for Jewish students and students of other religions as well as promoting Jewish events in broadcasts.
The first thing I did was pitch a documentary about using an app to put otherwise healthy people in the footsteps of someone with Crohn’s Disease for 24 hours. This helped create awareness about the condition which is largely in Jewish bubbles. Non-Jewish people unaware about it found it extremely informative and educational. This has also led to me helping the Crohn’s and Colitis UK charity be more inclusive to the Jewish religion as well. Whilst this was a good first step to bring people into prominent things within the Jewish community, we decided we wanted to do more.
So, with Freshers week falling on Rosh Hashanah this year, together with our Head of Culture (thanks Amelia) we decided to implement this into our Freshers coverage. Therefore, we secured an exclusive interview with everyone’s favourite Leeds Rabbi, Rabbi Danow. In a 30-minute sit down interview he discussed the work he does on campus as well as the importance of Rosh Hashana to Jewish students and how to celebrate it. Our feedback from this has only been positive and we look forward to doing more interviews with religious leaders in the future.
However, our push for more inclusivity did not end there. We all know that in the run up to Christmas, radio stations populate their music programming with Christmas songs, and Leeds Student Radio is no different. However, once I told the team I produce and present a show with, they kept asking me what songs represent this time of year for Jewish students. So, in peak Christmas coverage what did we play? That’s right we played Candlelight by the Maccabeats live on the radio and even added it to the playlist. Honestly, they loved the song…
This past holiday period when LSTV was asked to host the Inaugural National Christmas Live Show by NaSTA - which is basically the UJS for student TV stations, we agreed but under one clause (thanks Millie for pushing for this). We decided to call it the NaSTA Winter Live show to make it more inclusive to all who celebrate different festivals during the holiday period. We worked on the National scale to cover different festivals and try and promote more than just Christmas as students up and down the country don’t all celebrate it. It was a massive success and shows how we can have an impact on a national scale and open up the conversation to greater diversity and inclusivity in content.
It is also important that student media cover reports of anti-Semitism, especially when it effects the student body. I am proud to say we are working a big report which will be coming out soon about all these issues, including the recent NUS report which includes an interview with Joel Rosen, the President of UJS, hopefully educating people on campus who may not know otherwise. The sit-down interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/Qo5_40q32iw
To summarise, no one should be scared to be open about their religion in any society outside JSoc. People are interested, they want to know about the culture. My friends from TV and radio are intrigued, and I’ve been able to bring them along to a JSoc Friday Night Dinner and Pres to experience it and they are fascinated and really enjoy it. They rave to everyone else about JSoc and how interesting Jewish culture is. Some of them even message me every week to wish me a shabbat shalom. There’s nothing to be afraid of — its only false stereotypes but most people don’t agree with them and are just interested. Don’t let it stop u doing what u want at university because for the 1 person who may make a comment there’s another 9,999 that will embrace you and want to learn about it. So, let’s get more Jews into student media!