Community leaders and academics gathered at a Brooklyn, N.Y., museum to discuss the state of Jewish life on college campuses in the United Kingdom.

Rabbi Eli Brackman, co-director of Chabad of Oxford and chairman of Chabad on Campus UK, opened the evening reception at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. He took note of the unprecedented growth in the number of Chabad-Lubavitch centers serving UK students, made possible through the financial contributions of philanthropist David Slager.

Rabbi Naftali Loewenthal, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College of London, illustrated the recent growth by presenting a short timeline on the expansion of student outreach since the 1920s, when Lubavitch Chasidim worked with students in Russia.

“Take tremendous joy from all this work,” Loewenthal told the guests. “This is something beautiful.”

Brackman called the event a chance to honor Slager, “our dear friend and founding partner of Chabad on Campus in the UK,” and presented a leather-bound volume of emissaries’ pictures and their Chabad Houses’ activities to the businessman.

Slager, though, quickly thrust the spotlight back on the campus-based emissaries who had flown in for the occasion, identifying their work as at the “forefront” of providing Jewish opportunities to students.

“The honor is more fitting to the emissaries themselves,” said Slager, who became acquainted with the Chabad House at Oxford University as a law student.

“I do not remember a word [from law school],” he continued, “but I do remember the [Chasidic thought] I learned at Chabad.”

Larry Amsel, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and a supporter of Chabad of Oxford, said that further expansion was necessary, given the need for spiritual guidance on campuses worldwide. Amsel said that since he attended school, education as a whole has suffered in favor of a permissive, anything-goes culture.

Personal Touch

One alumnus at the gathering said that what makes a Chabad House unique among campus programming options is its family-like atmosphere and the relationships that develop between emissaries and students.

Frederic Aranda, 29, became involved at the Oxford Chabad Society while he was completing his degree in Japanese in 2003. Aranda, who has since become a sought-after fashion photographer, served as the “in-house photographer” for all of the Chabad House’s events. The experience allowed him to learn about his Jewish identity while perfecting his skill.

“The work they do is amazing,” Aranda said of Eli and Freida Brackman. “They managed to get me back into Jewish life, since I’d had no involvement since I was 13.”

The most rewarding response Chana Sarah Danow, a mother of 10 and co-director of Leeds Student Chabad House, ever received, she said, was when a student commented that when she was older, she wanted to have a home just like hers.

Ben Howard, a graduate of Nottingham University, said that Rabbi Mendel and Brocha Lent “brought a Jewish environment [to the area]” when they opened their Chabad House. “If everyone could experience what I have, everyone would be just as happy.”

Mendel Lent said that providing such personal attention would be impossible without the financial support of Slager and other supporters. He said that the philanthropist pays close attention to all of the activities he funds.

“He checks our Web site often,” said Lent. Slager often inquires about attendance figures and how attendees react to different programs, he added.

“It’s inspiring that Slager is interested in the details of our work with the students,” said Lent.

Rabbi Dovid Usiskin, co-director of Chabad of Bristol, echoed Lent’s sentiment, adding that he considered it a fortunate turn of events that he presently serves the very campus he graduated from in 2000.

“It’s too good to be true,” he said. “We have been sort of proving to ourselves that we can add a new dimension to Jewish life in Bristol. We are looking forward to stepping it up next year.”