Jay Stoll is the General Secretary of the LSE Student’s Union. Here he discusses why taking part in LSESU Jewish Society’s first Shabbat meal was so important to him…
LSE’s wonderful new Faith Centre hosted its first Shabbat meal last Friday night. I am acutely conscious of addressing an audience beyond North West London, so I want to start with a suitable-for-Wikipedia explanation of Shabbat, before I explain why this is a seminal moment for Jewish students at LSE.
“Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, celebrated every week from sundown on Friday to nightfall of Saturday. In Hebrew, Shabbat means “resting.” As recounted in Genesis, God created the world in six days and on the seventh refrained from creating. The observance of Shabbat by the Jewish nation is mandated in the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Jews sanctify the Shabbat and “rest” on this special day—defined by abstention from 39 forms of creative activity.”
In reality, what Shabbat means to our pluralist Jewish community at LSE is much harder to pin down. For some, it is exactly the above – a time of great spirituality, a break from the materialism devouring 21st century life and a retreat into our thoughts, our communities and our religious practice. All electronic devices turned off, all working commitments postponed and a complete immersion in spiritual indulgence. Hours of prayer/communal singing in the Synagogue, plenty of lessons from the Torah told, and a general celebration of resting in the name of God (a weekend lie-in, a cynic might say).
Pablo Mota-Rodriguez is a post-graduate student on the Development Studies programme. Here he discusses what he has learnt during the LSE Interfaith Ambassadors mediation training…
As part of our training to become LSE Interfaith Ambassadors, the LSE Faith Centre organised a course to train us in the mediation of conflict. The provider was St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and our convener was Mr. Simon Keys.
This was a very exciting day in which we engaged in different activities that allowed us to work on the concept of ‘disagreement success’. ‘Disagreement success’ is the “recognition that competing interests of the antagonists in a dispute require some kind of mutuality”. In other words, it is to acknowledge that, at the end, we do not need to agree, but we ought to find common grounds on our disagreements and understand each other’s point of view by listening to the ‘other’s’ position. This action of putting ourselves on the “other side’s shoes” is one of the basic features needed to understand our opponent, and one that we so many times fail to practice.
We started by playing some games which fine-tuned our listening skills and at the end of the first part of the workshop we played another game in which we stood in a particular part of the room to show our stand on a particular issue, this helped to show how varied our viewpoints were, but also how our assumptions about the views and actions of others are often incorrect.
Stef Hackney is a Mental Health and Well-Being Advisor in the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre. Stef regularly takes part in the Faith Centre’s meditation sessions and here explains some of its benefits…
The hectic pace and demands of modern life can all too easily result in feelings of stress and never having enough time in the day to get everything done.
We try and manage this by multitasking, continuously speeding up in an attempt to fit more and more into our lives. We spend our time worrying about the future and reliving the past, existing as “walking heads”, disconnected from our bodies and never feeling fully relaxed.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness for Everyday Life, puts it, “While we are blessed with 24/7 connectivity, so we can be in touch with anybody anywhere, at any time, we may be finding, ironically enough, that it is much more difficult than ever to actually be in touch with ourselves. What is more, we may feel that we have less time in which to do it, although each of us still gets the same 24 hours a day as everybody else. It’s just that we fill up those hours with so much doing, we scarcely have time for being anymore, or even for catching our breath”.
One alternative approach to managing this sense of urgency and the resulting increasing anxiety is to give meditation a try. The origins of meditation are widely debated and often attributed to early Buddhism (4th Century BC) but there is absolutely no obligation to identify with any of the aspects of Buddhism in order to meditate, in the same way that you do not have to be training to for the Olympics to go to the gym or get some benefit from exercise. Meditation is a separate and distinct practice that could be one more thing in your armoury against stress alongside exercise, eating well, a regular sleep pattern, feeling connected to others etc.
Reverend Dr James Walters, LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser, writes about the Faith Centre’s relationships with the local community, widening participation and promoting interfaith dialogue in local schools…
Public engagement is a core part of LSE’s work and the Faith Centre is no exception. For the last three years students of different faiths have visited local primary schools in Interfaith Week in November. Contemporary London has an extremely diverse religious makeup and school teachers are not always equipped to address the issues and tensions that can potentially arise. So our students have led discussions among the children on religious commonalities and differences, as well as demonstrating by their presence the important fact that people of all faiths can attend university and become friends with one another. This year our workshops focussed on how people of different faiths can ask common questions together such as “how do we live a good life?”, “how do we face suffering?” and “how do we understand gender equality?” Continue reading
Ali Issa is a second year Economic History undergraduate. Here Ali shares with us some of the challenges he overcame during the LSE interfaith trip to the Holy Land…
By the time I was on the coach after departing from Ben Gurion airport, I had an almost sinking feeling, that I was behind enemy lines, that I didn’t belong. All my life I had heard of the plight of the Palestinians and the precarious situation Al-Aqsa’s local people were in, so to be in trendy Tel-Aviv, Israel alongside ‘the other’ made me feel uneasy and that I was taking the wrong route to the Holy Land.
There were several things on our trip that started to show me glimpses of the ‘Israeli mind-set’ (if ever there is such a homogenous body). The main event that helped me understand the Jewish feeling regarding Israel was our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Hearing how Jews viewed the survivors in the immediate aftermath and the esteem resistance held in the Jewish narrative was something I couldn’t help but compare to the view of ‘resistance’ and ‘martyrdom’ within the Palestinian people. Overall, what I saw in Yad Vashem felt really novel to me which was rather surprising for someone who had quite a definitive view on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Venturing into the reality of the other is something that I didn’t see much of in Israel and Palestine but I have learnt to always try and see where the ‘others’ history originates from in my own life.
The holy sites we visited gave me an education in itself. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Annunciation and Golgotha were places I hadn’t even heard of before the trip, but I saw them and witnessed the excitement and veneration amongst our Christian friends. I learnt a lot about the Western Wall and the history of the Jewish temples too. Seeing the worship at these holy places in between my frequent visits to Al-Aqsa were a reminder to me that others can be just as devoted to their religion and feel what I feel.
Mariah Wilde is a third year Sociology undergraduate. For Holocaust Memorial Day Mariah shared with us her experience visiting Yad Vashem as part of the LSE interfaith trip to the Holy Land…
Before entering Yad Vashem there is a pathway leading to the museum named The Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations. It commemorates the noble acts of human kindness shown towards victims of the Holocaust by non-Jews. Not only did it highlight an appeal to the human condition, but also it showed how humbled nations of peoples could be after beautiful acts carried out generations ago.
As you walk along the pathway there are various plaques with the names of people from all around the world and their contribution.
This was paralleled in the meaning of the Carob trees planted along the pathway that represented seeds of peace being planted by previous generations still maintained over time. This was particularly profound because it was so peaceful and demonstrated just how dense an event it was.
It is often hard to conceive that such an atrocity occurred, especially on such a mass scale, but to think that there were glimmers of hope from others who were not directly subject to the same pain was a wonderful inclusion of the museum.
Jack Palmer is a MSc Religion in the Contemporary World candidate and works part time as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here he shares his experience as a participant on the LSE Faith Centre’s interfaith trip to the Holy Land…
It is hard to put into words an experience that you have been waiting much of your life to have. Normal language seems to fall short of explaining the profound impact that last week’s LSE Interfaith trip to the Holy Land has had on me. My own personal reflections, written at the end of each of the eight days we spent in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, both inspired and frustrated me, as I was never quite able to explain the emotions that were running through my body or ask the questions I wanted to articulate (let alone answer them). I think that must just be what the Holy Land does to you.
Unexplainable emotions and unanswerable questions aside, our week in the Holy Land was a powerful event for all involved. As a young person raised in the church, I have spent countless Sundays, youth groups and summer camps hearing the stories of Jesus’ life in the Holy Land. And when you are told stories that happened two millennia ago, it is easy to disassociate them with a physical place. They happened so long ago, that you almost imagine them happening outside of time and space. Whilst Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are well known places to me as locations of stories, this trip made them more real and more significant than I could have ever imagined.
One of the most profound aspects of this trip was sharing it with people of other faiths, both those who were members of the group, and those we had the privilege of meeting during our time in the Holy Land. For my own part, a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land would have been enjoyable and I am sure life-changing in many ways, but it would have left too much unsaid. When you are in a place where so much of the history, the politics and the society is bound up in the story of multiple groups (religious and non-religious), it would be impossible to truly appreciate the whole story without this interaction with those who view the story through a different lens. To explain, or even mention each shared experience, would take up many, many pages – but a couple of specific examples stick in my mind…
In our first blog post LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser the Reverend Dr James Walters explains some of the background behind the new LSE Faith Centre and outlines some of his hopes for its future…
Venture into the new Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at LSE (as hundreds of excited students are currently doing!) and you’ll find a full range of state of the art student facilities: gym, nightclub, bar, cafés, careers service, everything you would want on a twenty-first century university campus.
The entrance to the LSE Faith Centre
But some may be surprised to discover that half of the second floor is given over to a suite of rooms for spiritual/religious provision. LSE Faith Centre brings together our existing religious provision (Chaplaincy and Islamic Prayer Rooms) into a single facility with three aims: to meet the observance needs of all the different religious groups on campus; to create a home for our interfaith work and outreach; and to provide a space for everyone in the School to find some quiet and opportunity for reflection.
For a long time, Western universities took for granted the idea that religion was a purely private matter that need not be catered for in public institutions. Many assumed that it would die out sooner or later anyway. But the Western European experience of secularisation was not universal and the large growth in international students, combined with changing patterns in religious identity more broadly, have led to the need to recognise religion as an important dimension of the university community.