Rabbi Shlomo and Chana Mayer arrived to this campus town, home to the University of Virginia and some 500 Jewish families, last January.
Energetic and full of enthusiasm about this new challenge, the young couple wasted no time before launching a variety of Jewish cultural and educational programs.
Dubbed the only public ivy-league university, UVA has a Jewish student population of 1500. Dr. Vanessa Ochs, Director of Jewish studies at the university, expressed her enthusiasm about this development: “I celebrate the arrival of Rabbi Shlomo Mayer to our very small town. It’s an act of great courage and imagination on his part. I trust that many people will find an entrée into Judaism or a richer Judaism in his presence.”
Dr. Ochs’ enthusiasm was shared by many other faculty members who anticipate increased student involvement in Jewish activities with this new development.
The Mayers visited Charlottesville back in September, conducting High Holiday services for Jewish residents and students. The chemistry was good, and Rabbi Yossel Kranz, Director of Chabad of the Virginias, was asked to bring the Mayers back to Charlottesville to establish a permanent Chabad presence there. “Charlottesville is a unique town and needed unique Shluchim,” says Jan Chase, one of several interested community members. “The Mayers are warm and accepting; they maintain their strict standards of observance but remain open and non-judgmental of others regardless of affiliation or level of observance,”
The Mayers, neither of whom was raised in observant homes, accepted the invitation and arrived to Charlottesville with their two sons in tow: 19-month-old Reuven and Mendel of five months. The children have settled comfortably and are enjoying their new surroundings, says their mom, who conducts Torah classes for women on various topics.
Torah classes and prayer services conducted at the Mayer’s home off campus, as well as at the Hillel House, are well attended. The Mayers have a full house every Friday evening, for Shabbat dinner.
“Our goal is to have a vibrant center here, where students participate in Jewish life, spend Shabbat here, and are encouraged to marry Jewish,” says Rabbi Mayer.