A new welcoming committee will be greeting incoming students at the Cambridge annual Fresher’s Fair this year. Rabbi Reuven and Rochel Leigh, new Chabad representatives to Cambridge, arrived last month. The couple, both London natives, has been pulling all-nighters to have the Chabad Student Center—the university’s first-ever, open in time for commencement, on October 7th.
Famous for its intellectual verve and at the forefront of the world academic community since its founding 800 years ago, Cambridge has been ranked England’s top university, drawing the best and the brightest from around the globe. Cambridge, which counts more than 60 Nobel laureates among its alumni, first began admitting Jewish students in the late 19th century, and is famous, among other things, for the Cairo-Genizah collection housed in its library, drawing scholars and researchers worldwide.
Rabbi Leigh, who comes with experience doing outreach work at Yale University, expects Cambridge’s Jewish students (1,000) to reflect the intellectual seriousness on campus in their responsiveness to Chabad’s educational programs.
Back in 1968, Chabad of London sent local Chabad representative Rabbi Shmuel Lew to conduct a weekend Shabbaton with the Jewish students at Cambridge. Among the participants at that first Shabbaton was Great Britain’s present chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who subsequently visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and maintains close contact with Chabad today.
With the Leighs in town, students can look forward to a year of intense Jewish learning and activity. On Chabad’s short term list are Shabbat hospitality programs, Torah study classes, and, as Rochel says, “just being there for Jewish students looking for a home or a friend.” The Leighs will also reach out to Jewish faculty members with a series of monthly lectures geared to their interests.
Ultimately, says Reuven, Chabad’s mission here is “to empower Jewish students with a strong sense of identity and pride, and enable them to observe Jewish tradition in the Cambridge environment without feeling intimidated.” The Leighs are keenly aware of the challenges they face at a university that prizes intellectual achievement above all else. “Our goal is to impress upon people the need for a belief in that which is higher than human comprehension.”