Bracha Leeds, the new co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center at the University of California at Berkeley, once struggled with the seeming contradictions between science and the Torah. At the time, the molecular biology student found it impossible for the two approaches to ever coexist.

"I wondered my whole life if it would be possible to be a thinking person, and at the same time believe in the stories of the Torah," says Leeds, who completed her undergraduate studies at the very institution whose Jewish community she now serves. "It took a lot for me to be able to see them as real, having pursued a deep knowledge of the sciences."

Leeds no longer sees the pursuits of science and Torah as being mutually exclusive, and quite to the contrary. But she still very much appreciates the mental wrangling college students can go through reconciling scientific discipline with Torah truth; it's one of the reasons she and her husband, Berkeley alumnus Rabbi Gil Leeds, have such high hopes for their Chabad House.

Welcome to the new world of Chabad-Lubavitch and its campus outreach activities, where new emissaries are increasingly being culled from the ranks of relative newcomers to the movement. On top of being graduates from Lubavitch yeshivas and seminaries, they've also experienced the secular university world from a student's point-of-view. Some even hold advanced degrees.

All in all, they have different backgrounds than the Lubavitch population at large and, because of their experiences, have an advantage in reaching college students. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, regularly encouraged people who sought his advice to use whatever G‑d-given talents they had in the pursuit of revealing the beauty of Judaism and the oneness of G‑d.

To be sure, there have always been Chabad representatives who weren't born into Lubavitch families, but the idea of sending the college-educated to college Chabad Houses, and to the very institutions from which they graduated, has apparently gained some traction.

Like the Leeds, Rabbi Zev and Ariela Johnson, will next month take up the day-to-day management of the Chabad House at the University of Texas.

When Rabbi Yosef and Rochel Levertov, who have co-directed Lubavitch activities at the Austin school for many years, decided to expand programs into the community at large, they turned to Johnson, a UT alumnus, and his wife to spearhead campus operations. With more than 4,000 Jewish students at the state university, Levertov was confident that people already intimately familiar with the school would have an advantage right off the bat.

"Rabbi Johnson was exposed to Chabad through us," relates Yosef Levertov. "He went to yeshiva and when he got married, he knew he wanted to be an emissary.

"While at yeshiva, he even helped out here during the holidays," he continues. "He got to know the new students and kept contact with them. He really knows the life of a student at this school. It's his passion."

Back to School

Felice Schimmel, a Chabad House regular who graduated from UT in December and remains in Austin as the director of a sports and entertainment firm, reports that there's a buzz on campus regarding the impending arrival of the Johnsons.

"The whole campus is waiting for them to come," she says. "People keep coming up to me and asking me if they're here yet. It's just so important that they're young and come from the same background that most of us do."

The story of the Johnsons parallels that of the Leeds.

"When we got married, becoming emissaries at Berkeley was one of the things we discussed," says Bracha Leeds. "We always wanted to give back. It was something we dreamed of, coming back to where we started from."

That dedication has given rise to the prospect of Berkeley students being able to talk to religious figures who walked the same halls as them and who took courses with the same professors.

"We do have an advantage in that we know the area, many of the professors, the layout of campus and where everyone hangs out," she says. "But even though my husband and I attended this university, we want to be open-minded about what today's students like."

According to Rabbi Elazar Bloom, the co-director of the new Chabad House at Virginia Tech, all students are looking for meaning in life. He should know: Although unlike the Levertovs and the Leeds, he and his wife Rivkah are not alumni of the Blacksburg, Va., school that is now their home, they both possess science degrees. Rivkah Bloom holds bachelors and masters degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; her husband studied environmental science at the University of California at S. Barbara.

"College students are at an important junction in their lives, making major decisions on where they're going, who they'll marry, what relationships they'll form," says the rabbi, who was appointed to his position last month. "They're out of the house and they're forming their own world view as members of the Jewish people. To be at that point in their lives and not have access to their roots, of 3,000 years of tradition, is an injustice.

"It's just not right," continues the rabbi, whose Librescu Chabad Center is named after Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Tech professor who sacrificed his life saving a classroom of students in the April 2007 mass shooting at the university. "There is something essential in having a family there that represents their own traditions, which allows students to experience first-hand that there really is something to being Jewish, and that it's not just something you check off on a form."