Recently a couple of friends and I headed up to St. Andrews University (a little over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh) for their Jewish Society/Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity’s first annual Matzah Ball. Matzah Ball was a black tie event for Jews in universities from all over the UK to congregate and mingle, celebrating our common faith and culture. Since being in Edinburgh, I have made several Jewish friends through the University’s Jewish Society, or, as we call it, “J Soc.” J Soc is a small, motley crew that meets for a bagel lunch once a week, consisting mainly of international students from America, with a few Australians and Europeans in the mix. My J Soc friends are a great group on their own, however, we were all eager to meet some British/Scottish Jews, and so about five days before the event, decided we would go to the ball.
This relatively last minute decision was followed by a scramble over logistics and details: How would we get to St. Andrews? Where would we stay? What would we wear?! Much chaos ensued, but by Thursday evening all was worked out for Friday night’s party.
Or so we thought. On Thursday night all guests received an email informing us that the Matzah Ball’s location had been changed. Rather than the posh St. Andrews Golf Hotel advertised on the Facebook event, the location was now secret. Taxis would arrive at a pregame held at the home of one of the event hosts to transport all guests to the undisclosed site.
You may think this sounds like the sketchiest scenario ever, or as the Scots say, “a wee bit dodgy.” My friends and I had the same reaction; we emailed the hosts for more information. They responded that this sudden change of plans was in reaction to threats from student Palestinian groups on St. Andrews’ campus. Apparently, the hotel had refused to host the event after the Palestinian group had issued threats against the Jews of St. Andrews. After calling multiple other venues, the Matzah Ball hosts were eventually able to find a space able/willing to accommodate them.
The Ball ended up being a blast, among my top three evenings in Scotland. Complete with unbelievably friendly students, whisky, and traditional Scottish and Jewish dancing (ceilidhs and horahs), it was an exceptional cultural experience that I’m unlikely ever to replicate. However, I was appalled at the reaction of the various Palestinian students and hotels in the St. Andrews area. Until then, I had not encountered any Anti-Semitism in Edinburgh or the UK at all, and have never had any such experiences in the States. I write this not to discourage any potential Jewish students from going to Scotland; I have loved my time here and have felt perfectly safe and welcome throughout the duration of my stay. If anything, I have more Jewish American/Australian friends here than I do in the US. Rather, I blog about it merely to document it among my more profound cultural confrontations and give my readers pause to reflect on whether such a situation would have played out in America.
For more information about the event, read this article published by the St. Andrews student newspaper a couple of weeks ago: http://www.thesaint-online.com/2013/04/jewish-charity-ball-goes-ahead-despite-threats-from-palestine-activists/