Gaston Yalonetzky

St Anthony’s College

Oxford University

Oxford Chabad for all seasons


I am resting in the couch at our family apartment in Buenos Aires, reading Goldhagen´s book on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust.  I am just reading an endnote where the author refers to the debate that sparkled regarding his former book Hitler´s willing executioners.  And guess what? I find out that one of the scholars that defended Goldhagen´s work is nobody else than Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.  I jump up startled.  Of course I know this guy...the first time I met him I was sitting beside him at a Pesach Seder.  Guess where? At the Chabad House in Oxford!


Last year was my first at Oxford.  Many things, as you may reckon, made a great impression on me.  One of them was Chabad.  I had been rather familiar with Chabad Lubavitch but this time became a very different and enriching experience.  Oxford Chabad is an Oxford Jewish organisation. As a Jewish organisation it is and can be many things to each of us: a second home, a social venue to have a good time, a lecture room, a synagogue. Oxford Chabad stands together with Oxford Jewish Society (JSOC) as the soul of the Jewish community of Oxford, with a special emphasis on the students, both nationals and from overseas.  It seeks to make us feel comfortable and joyful by providing a comprehensive and charming Jewish environment.  The celebration of Shabbat and Holidays, the wide and diverse array of lessons and lectures, and even the possibility of showing up whenever one feels like, are all aimed at enhancing the Jewish dimension of our life in Oxford.


As an Oxford organisation, Oxford Chabad is subjected to the highest standards demanded by a clever student body coming from all over the world.  Chabad's centuries-old intellectual tradition, from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi onwards, ensures these high "lower-bounds" are easily met and surpassed.  The Shabbat lectures are a good example.  Scholars from different disciplines are regularly invited to discuss subjects of both general and Jewish interest.  As a matter of fact, some of the best talks I listened to in Oxford took place across a Shabbat dining table scattered with glasses full of vodka or beer.  I am serious here.  Among many others, I heard an Israeli from MIT discussing the influences of English on modern Hebrew based on a very interesting theory, a Hebrew University scholar showing the influences of Jewish religious sources on the Koran (around 70% of it is "Jewish"), one of the foremost ethnomusicologists explaining what biblical instruments might have looked like, and two lawyers debating on authority and disobedience in Jewish law.  Apart from these Shabbat events, there are also weekly lectures offered by guest speakers, and also by Rabbi Eli Brackman and his wife, Freidy.  Last term, rabbi Brackman gave a series of lectures at the Bodleian library on Jewish medieval philosophers. 


Clearly there are plenty of reasons to come to Oxford Chabad: the social environment, the opportunity to enjoy the Jewish holidays grasping their full spiritual meaning while having an awesome meal, the lectures, conferences and so on.  Does it matter whether you are an observant Jew or not? Of course not.  Chabad is open to each and every Jew.  Against the ridiculous discrimination that sometimes turns up among Jewish people, Chabad, following the genuine Jewish spirit, has always emphasised that every single Jew is dear regardless of his or her practice. Chabad welcomes those that want to experience their Jewishness for the first time as well as those that, coming from different family backgrounds, are more involved.  Is it a rival of other Jewish outfits in Oxford? Absolutely not.  In fact, there are many mutual activities.  And one should not be surprised at coming across Rabbi Brackman in Jericho's synagogue or members of JSOC in Chabad.  The fact that many students attend both Chabad and JSOC activities reflects the large degree of complementarities that makes for a healthy and vibrant Jewish community such as Oxford.


Oxford Chabad is all this and much more.  A short article is unable to describe it.  Too good to be true? There is just one straight and clear way to find out: come to Chabad!!!