A community Hebrew school in Cambridge, England, celebrated the completion of its first academic year with a graduation ceremony for its student body of close to 30 students between the ages of 2 and 12.

Jointly run by Chabad-Lubavitch of Cambridge, which serves both the local community and Cambridge University, and the Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation, the school opened its doors in September of last year.

Parents and officials saw in the institution an example of different organizations partnering to meet a critical communal need.

“This year has been a real success,” said Rochel Leigh, the co-director of the Chabad House who serves as the school’s principal. “We had 27 students in four classes taught by highly capable teachers from the university’s student body and the local Jewish community.”

With a curriculum similar to Hebrew schools at Chabad Houses across the world, the program combined arts and crafts, and other play activities with hands-on explorations of the Jewish holidays and Shabbat. It also featured Aleph Champ, an innovative system for teaching children how to read and understand Hebrew.

The teachers, many of whom came to the school through the campus-based Chabad House that Rabbi Reuven and Rochel Leigh have directed since 2003, said that the school gave them a chance to give back to the community.

“Rochel has taught us to really believe in the cause of Jewish education,” said Shelly Levenson, a recent graduate from Clare College. “The experience showed us that when you are determined, anything is possible.”

Many of the Hebrew school’s teachers are drawn from the ranks of Cambridge University’s student body.
Many of the Hebrew school’s teachers are drawn from the ranks of Cambridge University’s student body.

Avi Machlis, a father of two students, said at the graduation ceremony that the school reflected the unique nature of a varied Jewish community in an 800-year-old university town.

“The parents of the school come from very diverse backgrounds,” he said. “You have managed to create a school and curriculum that has included us all.”

For his part, Reuven Leigh said that the school’s mission dovetailed with that of the Chabad House.

“The school compliments our role within the university,” explained the rabbi. “The university attracts large numbers of graduate students, researchers and teaching staff from all over the world. Among them are a significant number of married couples with young children.

“In the past, we noticed that young families would leave due to the lack of Jewish education,” he continued. “We hope that this [program] will continue to expand so we can cater to the needs of children in the local community, as well as young families within the university.”