Student Spotlight: James Onona

In this installation of our Student Spotlight series, Guy Dabby-Joory interviews James Onona, the president of the Oxford Jewish society.

What is Oxford JSoc?

Oxford JSoc is the Oxford University Jewish Society, and in my opinion it’s the best society at Oxford (although I may be slightly biased!).

How did you get involved with the JSoc?

After three or four weeks of my first term in Oxford, I finally decided to attend Friday Night Dinner not really knowing what to expect and I ended up loving it! The food was amazing, and I got to see many people that I knew before university as well as meet many more, and some of them are now among my best friends. Towards the end of term, I was persuaded to run for committee – I was consequently elected as Entz rep and I have been pretty much involved ever since.

The main part of JSoc is meeting new people and making new friends as well as spending time with old ones.

What’s your favourite thing about JSoc?

I’d have to say the people, they really make the society what it is. In my opinion, the main part of JSoc is meeting new people and making new friends as well as spending time with old ones.

How has the JSoc responded to the most recent lockdown and virtual Hilary term?

Like any society, a virtual Hilary Term posed many challenges for JSoc, but I like to think we coped with it quite well. Perhaps my favourite version of an in-person event we adapted to online was ‘Toast the Term’, which is typically an event at the beginning of term where JSoc members go to a bar or a pub. Due to the lockdown, that obviously wasn’t an option, so we changed it to ‘Toastie the Term’, where we had a drink on zoom along with a competition to make the best toastie.

Which JSoc in-person event are you most looking forward to once you can do it?

That would have to be a tie between Friday Night Dinner and Jewbilation. Friday Night Dinner is the main weekly event for any JSoc, where I get to catch up with many people I may not get to see otherwise. On the other hand, Jewbilation is almost the highlight event of any term, which we unfortunately haven’t been able to run due to Covid – it’s essentially a mix of amazing music, dancing and copious amounts of alcohol.

A lot of the advice people give about being allies with any minority group is applicable with the fight against antisemitism.

Is your job a lot of work? How do you balance it with academic work?

I feel like being President of most societies is a lot of work and JSoc is no different: at times it can be very consuming and hard to balance it with academic work. Luckily, a lot of the work as President can be done outside of term during the holidays and you also have an amazing committee to help run events, and they are the main reason you can balance being President with academic work.

Particularly in the wake of the fallout of St Peter’s College’s invitation of Ken Loach, what’s the best way for people to be allies in the fight against antisemitism at Oxford?

I feel like a lot of the advice people give about being allies with any minority group is applicable with the fight against antisemitism – such as listening to your Jewish friends, standing in solidarity with them, and calling out and reporting antisemitism that you see in person or online to an organisation such as the Community Security Trust, who will record it and take the appropriate actions.

Educating yourself is also a great way to help – there are loads of resources to help – such as those provided by the Union of Jewish Students and Future Learn (provided by Yad Vashem) who both run antisemitism awareness courses. I’d also recommend reading books such as Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel (which I keep recommending to everyone as it is a great book and quite short, so there’s really no excuse not to read it!).

What’s one thing that you want people to know about the JSoc that lots of people don’t know?

Whilst it is the Jewish Society, it really is open to anyone (yes, not just Jews) as membership is just decided on attendance to events. Many of my non-Jewish university friends have come with me to JSoc events – especially Friday Night Dinner, as it is a cheap, tasty meal where you can meet amazing people. I actually think that some of my non-Jewish friends have come to more Friday Night Dinners than many of my Jewish friends! So, if you are interested, I would encourage people to come to a Friday Night Dinners or any other event – best way to get involved is to follow us on Instagram or join our Facebook group.