Few Jewish organisations in Britain have the geographical reach achieved by University Jewish Chaplaincy.
Chaplaincy families work to help thousands of students around the country every year with issues ranging from a desire to have a Friday night dinner, to serious health problems and even criminal matters.
The start of the academic year has seen a number of significant changes in personnel at the charity, including the departure of chief executive Ian Kamiel. Three new chaplains have moved to campuses in Scotland, Nottingham and Cambridge, with students in other areas benefitting from chaplains relocating.
The chaplaincy families create a home away from home for students and served up more than 6,000 Shabbat meals last year. But the chaplains are also specially trained to deal with pastoral issues including alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders and depression. The sensitive nature of the chaplains’ work means it often goes unpublicised.
“We are one of the few organisations which affects almost every Jewish family in the country,” said Suzy Richman, UJC’s operations director.
This year’s new arrivals include Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim and his wife, Sarah, who will cover Scotland. The couple have already met dozens of students in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews.
In Cambridge, Rabbi Yisrael Malkiel has started work across the East Anglia region alongside wife Elisheva. At one of Britain’s largest Jewish student communities, in Nottingham, Rabbi Zvi Bloom has hit the ground running.
Rabbi Bloom, from San Diego, California, and his wife Esther, from Wisconsin, are using their experience of working in large American communities to offer hospitality and assistance to more than 1,000 Jewish students. The couple welcomed hundreds of students to a succah in their garden.
In Manchester, Liverpool and across the north west, Rabbi Mati Kos is into his second year after replacing long-serving chaplain Rabbi YY Rubinstein in 2011.
Two of UJC’s longest-serving chaplains, Rabbi Fishel Cohen in Birmingham and the west Midlands, and Rabbi Gavin Broder in London, are continuing their work and have more than half a century of combined service between them.
Associate chaplain Rabbi Joe Kaye will cover the entire southern area following a successful spell in Brighton and Sussex last year. Based in London, Rabbi Kaye will make short visits to cities including Bristol and Bournemouth to deliver kosher food and organise events.
UJC has two regions without permanent chaplains – in Durham and the Yorkshire area. Students in Durham will be helped by a rabbi in Gateshead, while the sizeable Jewish student population in Leeds, York, Sheffield and Hull is currently being assisted by two postgraduate students.
Michael Kay and Melissa Yalonetzky are sharing the chaplaincy duties until a permanent replacement can be found for Rabbi Russ Shulkes, who returned to the United States with his family late in the summer.
Rabbi Broder and Rabbi Cohen, as well as Oxford chaplain Rabbi Daniel Braune Friedman, are helping the pair.
UJC chairman Ian Myers said: “Our more experienced chaplains do mentor the newer ones.
“They all speak to each other and we have a group of people who work across the organisation to put their wisdom and experience together to help solve each other’s problems. It is a real family feel.”