Jewish Studies interview at Oxford University

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
People say the Oxford University interviews are bizarre. Through my own experience, I can say that they are very interesting. It’s nothing like people say online.  When I sent off my application, I did not expect invitation to Oxford at all. However, at the end of November I received an email saying I was invited to interviews like Harry Potter received his letter for Hogwarts. You can not imagine how happy I was, nevertheless also nervous. On Tuesday afternoon I left London for Oxford with my little luggage full of books I mentioned in my personal statement and further reading. The train was about to departure in 2 minutes, and I was only getting through the tube. Eventually I made it. I sad down next to a girl, who seemed to be revising for her interview as well. The whole train was filled with students like the Hogwarts Express. After a while, even a lady with trolley full of snacks passed by. It seemed to me like if I was actually living the modern version of Harry Potter film.
Train stopped. Taxis started to be loaded with students going to different college. I arrived at Mansfield College, entered the Porter’s Lodge. Funnily, the gentleman inside reminded me a kinder version of Argus Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts. With his cat next to him, he gave me keys to my room A14. The room in the building from 19th century was cold. A bed, desk, wardrobe, sink and a chair welcomed me. Someone knocks on the door. “Hi! I am here to show you around the Mansfield College.” a current student said. “Alohomora!” the door of the main building automatically opened. The Junior Common Room, library and the dining hall, all was like in the films. Terrifying portraits speaking to you with their eyes while walking through the corridors, the Mansfield College made me feel like I received the letter to Hogwarts.
Back to reality. My first interview was early in the morning the next day. The same student led me to the institute of Oriental Studies. I registered and sat quietly next to applicants for Japanese and Persian studies, all nervous. After a while a gentleman took me upstairs to a room, where a lady was waiting for me. Professor David Rechter and Joanna Weinberg who specialise in Hebrew and Jewish studies warmly welcomed me. We shook hands and sat. Looking at my application Professor Weinberg said I am very international applicant. The conversation turned to my personal statement. One of the questions was regarding to my last paragraph in which I discussed that Eastern European Zionist pioneers, such as Leon Pinsker, are often neglected, while Theodor Herzl takes all attention in the history of Zionism. It is true. Auto-emancipation, the Haim Bialik’s poems, Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s revival of the Hebrew language, all is not celebrated as Der Judenstaat. The clock hit 10:30 and the interview ended. Was I talking too much about modern Jewish history? Why didn’t I mention more the ancient and medieval history? What if?...
The next day arrived with another thirty minutes of interview. “We have never had such an interesting applicant for Hebrew and Jewish studies” first words from Professor Salvesen. “Thank you” I blushed. This interview was more challenging than the first one. “Lion Feuchtwanger was a novelist. Is his work ‘The Jewess of Toledo’ a reliable historical source?” Professor Goodman asked. “Can historians be neutral?” and “How would you find out that King David actually existed?” made me feel less confident. However, what the interviewers want to find out is whether an applicant demonstrates analytical, reasoning and critical skills. Thus, even though I did not know exact names, events and dates, I tried to build a logical case on my prior knowledge. Second interview is over…
Later that day, I went to my third and final interview at St Benet’s Hall College, originally established only for monks in 1897. Ten minutes before my interview a text was given to me to analyse. It was one of the Diorite Stele laws written in Akkadian language and English with the picture of the God of Justice and King Hammurabi. Professor Frances Reynold and Nadia Jamil welcomed me. “In your personal statement you mentioned that Israel could become a theocracy due to raising Haredi population. Tell me more about it.” Professor Jamil asked. Strangely, I remembered all the statistics from my essay and concluded that if the immigration trend does not change, then by 2056 there will be more Haredi Israelis than secular. Meaning support for religious parties would grow. Second part of the interview focused on the sources given to me prior the interview. It was tough but fun. My task was to find out what the Akkadian words mean in English and analysing the picture. I left with mixed feelings…
Back to Mansfield College. I returned to my room meeting the cat Mr. Erasmus on the doorstep. Time for dinner came and I left my cozy place for the freezing dining hall in the chapel. All students enthusiastically talked about their interviews. Some depressed and some satisfied ate the dinner. The main reason why I enjoyed my interviews was because I do not often meet people with whom I could talk about  and analyse importance of certain aspects of Jewish history and Judaism. I returned to my room hoping to receive on 6th January the letter to read Hebrew and Jewish studies here at Oxford University. The whole experience was amazing. The future Prime Ministers of the UK, top lawyers and historians made me feel like this is the place I want to come back as Harry Potter viewed Hogwarts.