We spoke to Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, chaplain at University of Leeds about the support he and his wife, Nava, provide Jewish students based in Leeds and Yorkshire.
Leeds is a strong hub for Jewish students from all over the UK, and there are organisations on campus to support and welcome them, and offer mental health support and a space to report antisemitism while they’re studying, Zecharia and Nava open their home to build the student community and give them confidence to become future leaders.
Hi Zecharia! So, tell me about your work day-to-day?
Hello! We are the official rabbinic couple of the university, so we work on campus full time. We support students with anything they need. Whether it’s an issue they have with the university such as a religious freedom issue, a social struggle, a bowl of soup or just a chat – we give them a place to go.
We host meals at our home on Shabbat and during the week. We host a Dinner and Discussion group where students come over for dinner and we discuss Jewish values or identity – something educational. But it’s mostly social because that’s what people are looking for after a long day of university. We really do try to be a home away from home.
It seems like you’ve created such a welcoming environment! How did you first get involved with the university?
Since we met, my wife and I always said we wanted to do some type of community work together and that was our dream ever since. In 2018 we did a short shlichut in Ethiopia for a month and a half with the youth there. This was an incredible experience, but we wanted something longer so when we returned to Israel, we did a two-year training programme called Amiel by Ohr Torah Stone which trains couples to go to different communities around the world and take on either educational, leadership, or rabbinical work.
We were very keen to work at a university campus because we wanted to be part of Jewish students’ experience at such a meaningful time in their lives. We were in touch with some of the Jewish university campus organizations in the US and UK and Baruch Hashem we found University Jewish Chaplaincy.
How does your work fit into the wider Leeds community?
Leeds is very special in the sense that all the organisations on campus work really well together. There’s a lot of communication. We try not to make events clash with community events so each student doesn’t have to choose which events they go to, they can attend them all.
At the university there’s a very strong JSOC (Jewish Society) who work very well with us. There’s also Chabad and Aish who are very active and do amazing things on campus and are located very close to our house. Its nice to have them so close to us because when the students are away they are our small Jewish community in the centre of Leeds.
We really want to get the students and the North Leeds community more involved with each other and are currently working on an event together so stay tuned!