Grand opening of new dining hall and lounge for Jewish students at the University of Oxford

Thursday, 13 June, 2013 - 6:49 am

Chabad of Oxford hosted this week the grand opening of a new dining hall and lounge for Jewish students at the Chabad House of Oxford, enabling many more students to be hosted in comfort and elegance for Shabbat and Holiday dinners and its varied stimulating events throughout the year.


The hall, together with its adjacent student lounge, was dedicated by the Tajtelbaum family and the Slager family, and was opened amid great celebration in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Oxford Cllr Dee Sinclair, President of the Oxford University Student Union David Townsend, members of faculty, as well as about 100 students and local community members.


“Oxford Chabad has served me, as well as countless others, with a really important community, Jewish learning environment and opportunity just to engage in stimulating conversation in a Jewish atmosphere”, enthused David Poritz, Rhodes Scholar and deputy President of the Oxford University Chabad Society.  “This new hall will serve as a place where the community can come together to host ambassadors and high profile scholars, as well as to serve as an environment for really important student learning,” he predicted.  


The Lord Mayor of Oxford Cllr Dee Sinclair commented with equal enthusiasm: “Chabad in Oxford obviously forms a very important part in the Jewish community and it’s very clear to me how much love and care has gone into its development.”


David Townsend, President of the Oxford University Student Union, congratulated Oxford Chabad, saying that he knows that this is going to be a very valuable place for the students in Oxford for the years to come:  “Part of being a student in Oxford is having not just a rich academic life but also a social life, an emotional life and indeed a religious life, all of which the Chabad Society provides so well.”


The keynote speaker was philanthropist Mr. Mendel Tajtelbaum who dedicated the hall in memory of his late father, Yitzchok Tajtelbaum, an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor.  Mr. Tajtelbaum said he is proud to be involved with the development of Chabad at the University of Oxford. He movingly related how his father would share his daily single piece of bread with others in Auschwitz and inspired the students to recognise that although people have plenty today, we should always share what we have with others, whether materially or spiritually.


Anatolij Glemson, student at Balliol College and recipient of the newly established ‘Oxford University Chabad Society Ambassador Award’ told listeners that it was the open minded atmosphere and intercultural and Jewish academic exchange at Chabad of Oxford that really attracted him. “When I came to Oxford, Shabbat dinners at Oxford Chabad were one of the first things that I found out about and it really helped me integrate into Oxford and find new friends.”


Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, commented that “the new hall and lounge will help serve the Jewish students in greater comfort and help us build on the great success that has been achieved so far, reaching out to a broad spectrum of students from all background and continuing to inspire strong Jewish student leadership at Oxford impacting Jewish life for generations to come,” he said. 


Leader of the Labour Party, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, who studied in Oxford, wrote in a personal message to Chabad of Oxford: “I want to congratulate Oxford Chabad on the opening of the new Jewish student dining hall and lounge at the Oxford Chabad House Jewish student centre. I know how much Chabad does for the Jewish students at OxfordUniversity, actively demonstrating care, kindness and community, values which have been at the heart of Judaism for generations. I hope and trust that your long tradition of hospitality at Chabad House will continue for many years in the future.”


Keynote address: Mr. Mendel Tajtelbaum


A very good evening to everybody! First of all, we offer our respect to the Lord Mayor, President, congregation and students. This hall is dedicated to the memory of my late father so I thought I would share a few words about my father with you all. It says on the dedication that he was a remarkable man and he survived the Holocaust. As this hall is dedicated to serving food and meals to the Jewish students, I would like to share a story about the Holocaust related to food.


In Auschwitz and other concentration camps the rations were very, very small. People got very little food and the average person got if they were lucky one piece of bread and some water to drink or a cup of soup which, my father told me, was more like water than anything else. That’s what they got.


I remember when I was Bar Mitzvah at thirteen. A friend of my father, who was also in Auschwitz with him and later went to live in America, attended the event.  He shared a story about my father which he had seen with his own eyes. “When we were in Auschwitz,” he said, “we would get a piece of bread every single day – we were starving, dying from hunger – the minute we got the bread we would eat it in one second. But your father took that piece of bread and divided it and one half he ate and the other half he broke into little pieces and he gave it away. He saw people dying from hunger and he gave them a little bit of that bread.”


I asked my father whether it was true - and he said yes.  I’ll tell you where I got that message from. They were at home in Poland, nine siblings. My father and my late uncle were the two survivors. It was once a very cold winter evening. It wasn’t like today, nice luxury meals. They had one big pot of soup for supper. Their mother would get up in the morning, cut up the vegetables, put it on the stove and let it cook the whole day. On this very cold evening they were all round the table, all nine of them, with their parents. They all sat down, and the mother gave a bowl of soup to the father and the oldest child and gave every single sibling a bowl of soup, then gave one for herself, then sat down and they ate supper together. The pot was empty: everyone got one ladle, and there was exactly enough for the whole family.


Suddenly there was a big knock on the door. It was a poor man begging for food. He was starving but there was nothing to eat in the house. That big pot of soup - it was like a goulash soup - was empty. There was nothing in the house to eat. My father looked at my mother and asked her what she was going to do. She told the poor man to go in the next room, wash his hands and face and come and join them. When he was not looking she took an empty bowl and went round to everyone’s plate, took a spoonful out from one, then the next one a spoonful out, then the next, until all the nine children, herself and her husband, which is eleven bowls, had given one spoonful each, and another bowl was full. 


I thought I would share this story with you today. Today we built this beautiful hall, where Rabbi Brackman and his wife will be busy hosting guests and students from the university and the congregation every Shabbos. They come together and I am sure that there is always plenty, plenty of food but students know sometimes maybe a lot extra come – and then it’s good to share. You have, I’ll have less.


That’s why I am sharing this powerful story with you. That was where my father got that message from. I once asked my father: how could you in Auschwitz give half your bread away? Where did you get that from? That’s not an education that you can teach somebody. It’s a message that a child sees at home, that he takes with him forever. That was the message that my father saw at home. He saw how his mother took one spoonful, it was only one spoonful, but from all the eleven bowls, one spoonful makes up a bowl. That was the message that he took with him to Auschwitz. That was how he was able to share his one piece of bread.


Of course we are no longer living in those times. Today there is plenty, it’s not a problem. So we gave this hall today in memory of my father who did struggle for food…. May this hall be a hall where the Brackman family will have loads of visitors from the university, from the congregation, people who will come in feeling empty and walk out full. But not just with full stomachs but filled with spirituality and the beauty of Judaism.


Shabbos is a special time. You come here on Shabbos, you bond with friends: everybody is busy during the week, working or studying, or taking exams. Comes Shabbos, it’s a cut off. You can’t work, one can take a break from one’s study and find time to come to have good meals, good food, good singing, good company - that’s very special. So I want to thank the Brackman family very much for allowing me to be involved in this. Very often one gives charity, and one gives and one walks away. Here I am happy to be involved with this organisation and would like to thank you so much for allowing me to be part of it. Thank you very much. Thank you!

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