Chabad growth leads way to Europe

By Marcus Dysch, March 10, 2011

The number of organisations offering Jewish students activities and assistance on campus has grown dramatically in the past five years.

Chabad is at the forefront of the boom.

Alongside groups such as Jeneration and Tribe, the Lubavitch movement has expanded its operations to more than a dozen campuses.

From Brighton to Edinburgh, hundreds of students now enjoy Chabad Friday night meals, benefit from advice, and hear high-profile guest speakers every week, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Rabbi Eli Brackman, chairman of Chabad's campus projects, explained: "We focus on the value of the Jewish home and the warmth of home that students can miss while away at uni.

"Chabad's non-judgemental and unconditional acceptance of every Jewish student makes it an attractive place for young people who are not otherwise affiliated to any Jewish religious or cultural group.

"For a lot of students we symbolise how it's completely possible to live a traditional Jewish life in a modern society."

Chabad-Lubavitch first began work on campuses in the 1960s. Its longest-standing campus centre is in Oxford, where Rabbi Brackman and his wife Freida run activities.

Much of the success in recent years is down to Oxford graduate David Slager, whose donations have given the group the ability to branch out to more than a dozen campuses around Britain.

A special fund helps provide for students on smaller campuses where Chabad does not have a permanent base.

Thanks to the recent renaissance, Chabad plans to establish its university work on the continent. A European campus division is already starting work with some of the 200,000 Jewish students studying in more than 30 countries.

"This is an enormous ambition but a crucial next step in servicing the needs of Jewish students," Rabbi Brackman said. "We are always looking for small and major donors to help support this initiative with us, as well as continuing our work in the UK."

At the turn of the year the organisation's campus rabbis held a two-day conference to discuss the future, including ways to unite the Jewish student community.

At one time there were disagreement's over Chabad's campus role amid fears it clashed with what was traditionally JSoc and University Jewish Chaplaincy "territory".

In 2008, UJC said it was "disappointed" over what it saw as a "duplication" of resources and accused Chabad of "polarising student communities".

But Rabbi Brackman said such disagreements were in the past. He said his organisation attracted Jewish students who fall between the gaps in what other groups provide, and would otherwise have no Jewish experiences during their time at university.

Last updated: 10:43am, March 10 2011