Hello, everyone! I am Yoni Livstone, an associate student from the United States, currently studying computer science at Columbia University (Go Lions!) and Jewish religious thought and philosophy at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Despite the apparent divergence of my fields of study – computer science and Jewish studies, specifically Jewish thought – they share more in common than meets the eye. Both fields are very wide ranging with many subsections. In computer science, you can study artificial intelligence, systems programming, networks, graphics, and an array of other tech-related domains. Similarly, in Jewish studies, one can explore Jewish history, the Bible, Jewish law, Jewish thought, and many other disciplines. The interconnectedness of these fields resonates with me, as the skills acquired in one area often inform and enhance my ability to understand the other.
Navigating my Jewish identity here at QM differs notably from the Jewish community at Columbia. For one, there are far fewer Jewish people at QM than back home. But being in the UK has also provided insight into how Jews outside America relate to being Jewish, to the Jewish people, and to Israel.
This semester has prompted me to contemplate what it means to be Jewish outside of being an American. However, there are some things that remain universal, such as the connection forged through shared songs and traditions. Post-October 7th, visibly expressing my Jewish identity on campus has presented challenges. Consequently, I have refrained from wearing recognizable symbols such as my yarmulke in public, a departure from my usual practice back home.
I am grateful to the QM JSOC community, which has served as a home away from home. During the fall semester, we participated in various events, including the assembly of the campus Sukkah – a traditional Jewish hut built on the holiday of Sukkot, weekly lunch and learn sessions, and holiday celebrations. I have attended almost every event held; generally speaking, any event with food is a surefire way to get me to show up ??.
The highlight of my week consistently revolves around Friday night Shabbat dinners. Observing the Sabbath allows for unhurried conversations with friends, unencumbered by the distractions of academic and professional obligations. I regularly attend Central London FND (Friday Night Dinner), preceded by Friday night prayer services. These services and communal Shabbat dinner have become a cherished tradition during my semester at QM. At home, I also regularly attend “Kraft Shabbat,” the weekly Friday night Shabbat dinner held at Columbia’s Kraft Center for Jewish life.
As my semester at Queen Mary has drawn to a close, I eagerly anticipate applying the knowledge and insights gained – both academically and personally – to my life back home on campus. While I will miss Queen Mary, I am excited to continue the lifelong friendships I have made with my JSOC friends, just from across the pond.