On the Campus

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Rabbi Eli Magzimof of the University Jewish Chaplaincy spoke to JLife about Jewish students in Yorkshire and being nominated in the Pride Awards.

Dynamic duo Rabbi Eli Magzimof and Rivka Magzimof are chaplains for the University Jewish Chaplaincy, an organisation that works with students and universities across the UK.

The couple supports scholars at Yorkshire higher education institutions, including Leeds Beckett University, the University of Leeds, Leeds Trinity University and Leeds College of Music. JLife chatted with Rabbi Eli to discuss their work…

Hi Rabbi Eli. How did you become involved with the University Jewish Chaplaincy?
I already had a similar position in Germany about seven or eight years ago. Then, after I got married, my wife, Rivka and I spent a month or two away from Israel every year. We visited Poland and Germany and worked with Jewish communities there. Helping to strengthen communities abroad was always something we had in mind.

Then Rivka and I came to Leeds from Israel about three years ago. The University Jewish Chaplaincy is quite a big organisation and we cover most campuses across the UK.
The reason we chose to work with students is because it is a very crucial time in their lives and we want to make an impact.

Tell us about your role as a student chaplain.
As chaplains we have four main responsibilities: we try to empower students and nurture their Jewish identities; we provide pastoral and wellbeing care; we represent the students to the universities if they have any issues such as with exams or courses and make sure they are being taken care of; we try to provide a home away from home for the students.

It’s a new experience for them being away from family and we host a lot of students during the week and on Friday evenings. They know they can come by and talk to us.

What kind of events do you run?
We put on two or three events every week. My wife, for example, does a Zumba class for girls. We also do dinner and discussions, called Food For Thought, and we learn about Jewish history, philosophy and resilience.

I try to go at least once every two weeks, to each university. We have around 1,000 to 1,500 Jewish students just in Leeds alone.

We are going to do a welcome event over Sukkot, probably a barbeque. We are looking forward to ShabbatUK too and we’re also planning to take a big group of Jewish students from Leeds to Cambridge to do a Shabbat together.

Other than that, with the high holidays going on, we’ll try not to push it too much with big events. The truth is that we realise that big events are very important but they never have the same impact as personal relationships and we do want to devote more time to developing those this year.

Does your nomination in the educator category of the Pride Awards show you are making an impact?
It came as a surprise to me. I was very happy because it shows that people value not us specifically, but the role and the importance of having a Jewish family on campus working for the students. I think that it’s priceless that the community is acknowledging us, despite being quite far away from the universities, especially in Leeds. It’s amazing to hear that they do care a lot.

It’s not just the nomination but the ongoing support. We have the chaplaincy’s board constantly fundraising to sponsor all of our events and we sometimes have rabbis coming over to give talks to the students as well.

What have you enjoyed most about living in Yorkshire so far?
We love Yorkshire pudding! But in general, the people here are warm and lovely. After all the stereotypes about English people being cold and distant, which is what we heard before we came here, it’s completely the opposite. We feel very welcome and people’s faces shine when you speak to them.

In general that’s true of Yorkshire but the Jewish community, which we interact with all the time, is just incredible. It’s the job that makes you happy too, the satisfaction of seeing students come in and then leave as much more independent people with more focus on their Jewish lives. When you know that you had some part in that it’s very rewarding.

We hear that you’re known as the ‘Running Rabbi’ and have completed the London Marathon to fundraise before. Do you have any more runs planned?
That feels like ages ago. After the marathon I played football with the students, which I usually do every week, and I injured myself during the game so I had to have knee surgery. So I haven’t been able to run or exercise for quite a few months.

I’m getting back into it now though, so I don’t know, maybe this year [I will run] again. I think if I fundraise, though, I’ll try and find somewhere to do bungee jumping instead. I think that would be much quicker!

Find out more about University Jewish Chaplaincy at Mychaplaincy.co.uk.