Back to School... or Bust!

The Jerusalem Student Club sends the city's university students back to school with a bang.

The Lab 298 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
The Lab 298
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
For Education resources click here For Overseas Study Programs click here Woohoo!" yelled one rowdy Jerusalem student as he ran down Shlomzion Hamalka street, past the string of jam-packed bars all spilling onto the blue-balloon-lined street last Tuesday night. Hundreds of students from post-secondary institutions across the city came out for reduced-priced drink and food at 18 of the nighttime hotspots in an unprecedented display of holy city student spirit. The pub-crawl was organized by the Jerusalem Student Club, a two-year-old entity conceptualized by Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) - the Hebrew University independent non-profit outfit as part of Jerusalem Week, a developing tradition that ushers in the new academic year. Events included walking tours in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality; a huge party at the Haoman 17 club; a movie & beer night at the Lev Smadar theater/cafe in the German Colony; and XPO, a debut live performance at The Lab (Hama'abadah), all at reduced prices for students. Jerusalem Week was the first of a series of Jerusalem Student Club initiatives. This week's Community Involvement Week (November 13-18) followed swiftly on its heels. The highlight came on Thursday with a large-scale food-packing campaign for Jerusalemites in need at the Givat Ram campus. And on November 30, the organization is holding a job fair expected to attract recruiters from over 20 local companies. Representing over 40,000 students and with 16,000 members, the Jerusalem Student Club is a city-wide student council, consisting of reps from the Hebrew University, Hadassah College, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, the David Yellin College of Education, the Sam Spiegel Film & TV School in Talpiot and many others. Its overall objectives, defined by the 8,000-member-strong parent organization Ruah Hadasha, are: to bring students from different schools together to enjoy cultural activities the city has to offer; to get students involved in the city via community volunteer initiatives; and to encourage students to stay in Jerusalem after they graduate by helping them find work. "The student population in Jerusalem is very spread out and schools don't talk to each other. In addition, most students who study in Jerusalem are detached from the city. We want to change this," explains Ori Goldstein, Vice General Manager of Ruah Hadasha and Jerusalem Student Club Coordinator. "The general idea behind the Jerusalem Student Club is to create a more active and vivid student community that is more connected to the city." If last Tuesday's pub-crawl is any indication, the Jerusalem Student Club has already succeeded in that department. "In the last three years, there has never been anything like this!" exclaimed third-year Physics/Chemistry Hebrew University (Givat Ram) student Barry Lovesky in the packed Geisha Bar. "It's a nice change, because most students just study and go home, study and go home." Most Jerusalem business owners couldn't agree more. "We decided to participate because students in Jerusalem are a majority. They constitute a lot of people, and the concept of the bar is right for them," says Sam Adi, co-owner of the nine-month-old Geisha Bar which, like other participating venues, offered various discounts on food and drink throughout the evening. "The initiative is really helping to increase the popularity of culture in Jerusalem," adds Malki Amir, producer at Hama'abadah Theater, which offered discounted tickets (NIS 20, rather than NIS 35) to students for the debut of XPO on Thursday night and Friday afternoon. Although he agreed that Jerusalem Week was a good idea, a staff member at Lev Smadar Theater which screened the movie The Constant Gardener for a discounted price on Monday night, said it wasn't as big a success as he had expected, drawing a crowd of only 50 to 60 students. "It was very disorganized," he said. Still, most students seemed happy with the effort. "Usually students don't have the money to go out - especially to places like this," says 18-year-old Yael Agmon, who sat eating dinner at Diaz with her boyfriend, Hagai Benjamin, a first year Economics/Middle East Studies major at the Hebrew University. "I think it's very nice that they are giving a lot to the students - and they promote beer drinking, which is a good thing," commented 24-year-old Sachi Weiss, a student at the College of Management in Rishon Lezion, who nevertheless chooses to live in Jerusalem. "It's hard to leave Jerusalem," he says in front of the Irish bar Belfast, confessing with discontent that no such initiative exists for students in Rishon Lezion. "Jerusalem is like one big, beautiful neighborhood, where everybody knows everybody, and people talk to each other. It's like one big family and it will be a long time before I've lived here long enough." But some students on the pub-crawl shared less than rosy feelings about the capital. "I think this project is really cool. I can get discounts at a bunch of places I go to anyway, so that's nice. I only wish it would happen more than one week a year," says third-year Bezalel student Tamir Lichtenberg, 28, outside the Kadosh cafe. "Still, I only chose to study in Jerusalem because art is in Bezalel and Bezalel is in Jerusalem, and, unfortunately, not in Tel Aviv. "Don't get me wrong," he says, "I like the weather in Jerusalem, and there is this mystical charm that I still feel from time to time, but it's as though Jerusalem is like some kind of theater set, and each person finds himself alone on this set. It's kind of sad sometimes because in Tel Aviv it feels like everybody is on stage together, cohesively. Not so in Jerusalem." Fellow Bezalel student Arbel Berger, 24, shares Lichtenberg's sentiments. "There was nothing like this before ... I think the pub-crawl is a great idea," she comments from her seat at Diaz. "But I decided to come to Jerusalem because I wanted to study photography and Bezalel is supposed to be the best school for that. Jerusalem is a whole different world, and I don't like living here so much." Berger was also less than optimistic about the idea behind the Jerusalem Student Club. "Trying to connect all the schools together is a nice idea, but it won't really work," says Berger, who explains that the cultural differences between students at different schools will prove to be an obstacle. "For example, students from the Hebrew University look at us and say, 'Oh, they're from Bezalel..."' Lichtenberg agrees: "There is a big difference between Bezalel students and university students. One type studies art, and the other studies mainstream subjects... Bezalel students are more nebulous. Their culture is very different." Others were more optimistic. "I think the idea of connecting students from different schools is blessed," commented third-year Bezalel student Michal Boukarsky, 23, addding that activities should be expanded. "Although she admitted that not all activities on the roster - i.e. the pub crawl - were appropriate for her 400-member religious female student body, Michelle Gelband, from Efrata College for girls in Baka, says the idea of unifying students in Jerusalem is worthwhile. "It's really positive to interact with other students in your city. You get to make connections and meet new people, and we find we have much more in common than not." "The cooperation we have seen between students from different schools is really a beautiful thing," says Goldstein. "We are not naive about Jerusalem. We know it's not a simple city and that it can feel alienating. But if we all come together we can change this." And yet, the pressing issue once the beer is downed and the culture consumed remains the same. "Finding a job here in Jerusalem is one of the hardest things to do," acknowledges Shirona Partem. "Even if people fall in love with the city, they can't stay if they don't have work."