When Chabad Nottingham began work at campuses in the city five years ago, the organisation’s first Shabbat dinner was attended by just five people. Times have certainly changed.
“On a Friday night, 100 students coming for dinner is not unusual,” explained co-director Mendy Lent.
The small house that Rabbi Lent, his wife Brocha and their three children live in is a hive of activity. “Even though we’ve got a marquee in the garden we’ve now got people eating on the stairs and in the hall. We’re storing food in the kids’ bedrooms,” he said.
Masters student Davita Grafstein, from Wembley, north west London, said: “The Lents have so much going on, I don’t know how they do it.
“My favourite events are the girls’ nights, where we make truffles or do flower-arranging and just hang out and talk. On Chanucah we had a huge candle-lighting on campus and Purim is insane; this year’s event was hippy themed.”
Events run by Chabad in Nottingham include education classes, kosher meat sales, midnight feasts for students revising through the night, and a “Milky Madness” Shavuot session which offered 12 flavours of cheesecake.
Rabbi Lent said: “It’s crucial that we are a family. It’s a very warm and friendly atmosphere.”
Ms Grafstein added: “A friend invited me to Chabad and I was terrified. I thought how on earth am I going to fit in there? But they were so welcoming, now I go two or three times a week.”
The growing number of students attending activities means cooking for Shabbat begins on a Tuesday. Friday night meals use up to 20 challot and 25 kilograms of chicken, and Rabbi Lent estimates more than 150 people come through the door each week.
Following the similar success of Chabad in cities including Leeds and Oxford, the Lents are planning to create a student centre that will include commercial kitchens, a kosher restaurant, a mikveh and an art gallery.
To mark five years — or 60 months — of Nottingham Chabad, and to raise money towards the new building, Ms Grafstein and Nottingham Trent student Max Domen will do a 60-mile sponsored walk across the Peak District in 36 hours in July.
Ms Grafstein said: “We hope to raise £3,000, but it’s also exposure for Chabad, to let people know it’s there, because they have made my time in Nottingham so much more welcoming.”