When the University of Leeds' Jewish students return to classes this fall, they'll have more than one occasion to celebrate. The first: The arrival of Rabbi Michoel and Chana Sorah Danow to the northern England university will mark the opening of the third campus Chabad House in the United Kingdom this year. The second, flowing naturally from the first, will be the Danow's oldest son's bar mitzvah.

"One week after the start of the term in September we plan on having a Soup in the Sukkah event," reports Chana Sorah Danow, who moved to Leeds with her husband and brood of eight from Sweden before the summer. "But in December, we'll be making a bar mitzvah, so that Shabbat will be very special with the students."

In between, of course, the Danows will be "doing the regular stuff that's gone on everywhere" Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries have set up shop, such as hosting Shabbat meals and offering one-on-one Jewish learning opportunities, leading up to weekly lectures and big-name speakers.


It's a proven formula, one that has worked at Oxford University, where Danow's brother-in-law, Rabbi Eli Brackman, directs the Oxford Chabad Society. The 500-strong student organization was Chabad's first full-time campus operation ever in the United Kingdom upon its founding in 2001; this year it hosted, among others, a Jewish member of the Ukrainian parliament and law professor Alan Dershowitz.

The University of Cambridge's Chabad Jewish Society, directed by Rabbi Reuven and Rochel Leigh, has likewise exhibited tremendous growth since the couple moved to the campus in 2003.

So Brackman and Reuven Leigh were quite confident in establishing Chabad on Campus UK last year and lobbying forcefully for more full-time campus operations in the United Kingdom.

"Chabad has been active on campus for the last 40 years, but only recently we've been focusing on establishing permanent Chabad Houses on campus," explains Brackman. "After Cambridge came London and then Brighton. Now Leeds makes five. But there's still a number of other campuses which would have a huge benefit from a permanent location."

According to Brackman, with the rise of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom in general and in its academic institutions in particular, there's a newfound urgency in providing a solid infrastructure for Jewish students. In addition, assimilation in the Jewish community at large has left today's 20-somethings without a firm foundation in their faith and identity.

"There's a lot of influences out there, and now we're entering a stage where the Jewish students of today are more detached than 20 years ago," says the rabbi. "Then, students knew their grandparents were very traditional, but now you're talking about students who are one more generation removed.

"The classic model of focusing on the Jewish communities surrounding the campuses is just not sufficient anymore."

That's where the Danows – who were formally appointed by Rabbi Yeremiyahu Angyalfi, Chabad's chief emissary in Leeds – come in. For the past 13 years, Rabbi Michoel Danow has been teaching young adults in Gotheberg, Sweden, while Chana Sorah has been managing a Jewish children's magazine. In addition, she serves as a scholar on the Jewish information Web site, AskMoses.com.

Their start-up costs are being partially financed by generous donations from the David Slager Family Foundation and the Rohr Family Foundation.

In coming to Leeds, says Brackman, which has an estimated 1,500 Jewish students out of a full-time student body of 32,000, the Danows will be taking that experience with youth and investing it into a "population that is hungry for spirituality."

"This year, Passover falls out during term time," notes Danow. "So, there'll be about 1,500 students who will need a place to eat. We can't wait to see them all at our table."