Fred Aranda

Pembroke College

Former President of Oxford Chabad Society


Coming from Switzerland where the majority of Jewish people – including myself- are Sephardic, I found it refreshing to be part of a mixed Jewish crowd in Oxford. Although I believe that much work still needs to be done on the University side to attract greater social and ethnic diversity in Oxford, this city certainly offers countless opportunities to get involved and to meet stimulating people.


In fact, communities such as those in Oxford are precious, as the constant influx of people and their readiness to share is surprisingly rare. In Switzerland, strict immigration laws make it virtually impossible for foreign Jews to establish themselves in the country, and when they do, they come across language barriers that make English useless.


I came to Oxford to study Japanese, and my time in Japan last year was an eye-opening experience. In Japan, the Jewish communities thrive in their own ways, by creating strong bonds between small groups of people. However, the low turnout during Jewish festivals indicates how isolated the Jewish communities are, as there are simply not enough people to create a real community. This is why the communities that we have in Paris, London, or Oxford, where Jewish people gather from all over the world, are particularly precious.


When I returned from Japan this summer, I decided to get involved in the Jewish community in Oxford, simply because I longed for the opportunity to do so, and had previously taken this privilege for granted. The doors were wide open, and I don’t think I could have found a better place to rediscover my own culture, than by coming to the Chabad House.


Oxford Chabad is unique, as its energy and vitality make for a highly active centre, where each person is individually encouraged to become a part of something special. Over the last six months, I was amazed to see how much work and devotion goes into organising events, and often took the opportunity to meet the guest speakers, or even to bake my own Matzoh bread. However, I am particularly proud to regularly attend the Shabbat meals, to which I have even taken to inviting my Japanese friends. During these meals, Oxford changes for me, as I leave all my tutors and books behind, and sometimes forget all about them.


In fact, I feel that sitting at Eli and Freidy’s table for Shabbat (and eating that Challah bread) is one of the main reasons that I am in Oxford. Being Jewish, I would have lost out had I not discovered the Chabad House, and I do hope to remain involved even when I move to London after my exams this summer.