Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks was among over 50 Cambridge University alumni at an emergency meeting in Golders Green on Sunday which raised £20,000 towards maintaining a Jewish chaplaincy post in Cambridge and East Anglia.
The meeting featured tributes by recent graduates to the essential role of student chaplains at Cambridge. Supporters were urged to ensure sufficient funds were in place to recruit a new chaplaincy couple after Rabbi Yehuda Fishman and his wife Nechami stand down at the end of the academic year.
University Jewish Chaplaincy has been hit by the credit crunch and speaking after the meeting, UJC chief executive Rabbi Yoni Sherizen noted: “The testaments of more recent alumni alerted the crowd to the importance of having a student chaplain, particularly in facing the work of missionary groups and the anti-Israel lobby on campus.”
Chaplaincy posts cost around £75,000-a-year — including salaries, living costs and expenses — and Rabbi Sherizen hopes “the combination of donations pledged and the planned fundraising efforts of others means the current shortfall of £30,000 will be made up”.
He now intends to offer the role to Oxbridge graduates Rabbi Simon Mandel and his wife Sarah, who work in Jewish education in Israel.
Rabbi Sherizen had earlier rejected a £12,000 offer by David Gilinsky, secretary of the Cambridge and Suffolk Jewish Community, Hama’ayan, “towards the salary and pension of a communal rabbi responsive to the needs of the entire community”.
He turned down the money on the ground that “the needs of 1,000 students in Cambridge and East Anglia require the full-time time attention of a dedicated couple”.
In a subsequent email sent to the rabbi and communal personalities, Mr Gilinsky pointed out that students were around only for “27 weeks of the year”.
Moreover, they did not require a chaplain for matters such as activism and education, which could be dealt with through a Jewish society.
But Rabbi Sherizen countered: “There are postgraduate students coming to Cambridge the whole of the year and, anyhow, all students need the support of a full-time rabbi.
“They would miss out terribly without one.”