After four decades of outreach in France's capital city, Chabad-Lubavitch of Paris is turning its sites to expanding its programming for the region's many university students.

At its seventh-annual gala banquet this week, 1,600 supporters not only toasted Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, who opened the city's first Chabad HouseBeit Loubavitch Centre – in 1968 as a continuation of the vast educational and humanitarian programs Lubavitch established in the early 1940s, but listened to a University of Paris medical student detail the evolution of his close relationship with the institution.

Frederiac Emkies, 26, started attending classes taught by Azimov's son nine years ago. Rabbi Levi Azimov, would come from Beth Loubavitch of Neuilly just west of Paris, to the university every week, where he would lead discussions on Judaism. Rabbi Eliezer Arnauve of the central Chabad House later took over, adjusting the seats in his minivan to create a mobile "class on wheels."

"It was something very special," said Emkies, who five years ago gave Arnauve the honor of being a witness at his wedding. "We didn't have a classroom, so we learned in the emissary's car."

Emkies also pointed out that he and his fellow students now have kosher sandwiches to eat in between classes thanks to the city's network of Chabad Houses.

"We plan on developing more programs for university students," Rabbi Mendel Azimov, director of Beth Loubavitch Paris 16, stated after the dinner. "Right now, there are classes at every university, but we're actively looking at ways we can expand our offerings."

Food Baskets for Purim

Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, right, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Paris, embraces Chief Rabbi of France Haim Yossef Sitruk. (Photos: Mendy Benhamou)
Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, right, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Paris, embraces Chief Rabbi of France Haim Yossef Sitruk. (Photos: Mendy Benhamou)
Held at the Equinox Hall, the guests dined on fillet of fish drizzled with a Provençale sauce and veal tenderloin while a five-piece orchestra provided musical accompaniment. During a silent auction, they bid on 20 pieces of silver ornaments, including candlesticks, Chanukah menorahs and wine goblets, and donated money to sponsor a bar mitzvah for a needy teen in Israel.

Chasidic artist Michoel Muchnik was on hand to sign nine paintings also offered up for sale as part of the fundraiser, which helped underwrite the upcoming Purim campaign to send some 55,000 food baskets to area Jews.

Chief Rabbi of France Haim Yossef Sitruk and Chief Rabbi of Paris Rabbi David Messas made surprise appearances.

Pierre Besinonou, the president of the local Jewish federation who attended the dinner, said that the organization had clearly succeeded in their outreach to a community that came mostly from north Africa.

"Chabad-Lubavitch is a living example," he said. "Chabad gives us courage."