University should have protected us, say chaplains hounded off Leeds campus

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University should have protected us, say chaplains hounded off Leeds campus

Rabbi Zecharia and Nava Deutsch, who are back in Israel after three years of service, also thank Jewish organisations for their support during post-7/10 abuse

Rabbi and Rebbetzen Zecharia & Nava
Rabbi and Rebbetzen Zecharia & Nava Deutsch

The Jewish chaplains for Leeds University and the surrounding Yorkshire region are flying home to Israel following their three years of service.

As reported by Jewish News, following the Hamas atrocities of 7 October, Israeli citizen chaplain Rabbi Deutsch was called up for IDF reserve duty. On his return to campus, he, his wife Nava and young family faced a barrage of antisemitic abuse, including over 300 abusive and threatening phone calls, and a number of death threats.

The university J-Soc building Hillel House was also defaced with antisemitic graffiti.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, University Jewish Chaplaincy (UJC), which has provided rabbinic couples to serve on UK university campuses for more than 50 years, said that rabbi and Mrs Deutsch had made “significant contributions to UJC and to the Jewish student community in Leeds. Their dedication to their roles, supporting Jewish students and fostering a vibrant Jewish life on campus, has been invaluable”.

The organisation, offering support to more than 8500 Jewish students at over 100 universities in 13 UK regions, added: “Since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on 7 October, the situation for Jewish students on campuses across the country has become increasingly challenging with rising levels of antisemitic incidents being reported and recorded. This has also been the case in Leeds where the words “Free Palestine” were graffitied on the side of the Hillel House in February 2024.”

Graffitti on Hillel House Leeds University

Rabbi and Mrs. Deutsch said: “As we come to the end of our three-year posting, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time working for UJC, and especially getting to know and love the Jewish students in Leeds and across the Yorkshire region. They are a very special group of people, and our family is grateful for this experience.

“The past few months since October last year have been exceptionally challenging at both a personal and communal level. There were many moments when we felt that the University should have been much stronger in protecting our family, and the Jewish students from those elements on campus who were attacking Israel and our right to be Jews.

“Throughout this time, we want to thank the UJC team, the Leeds Jewish Representative Council, the CST, the BOD (Board of Deputies), the JLC, (Jewish Leadership Council) the Leeds Jewish community and others who offered us such incredible moral and physical support from across the community. It means a great deal.

“Despite these challenges, we return to Israel grateful for having completed our three-year term serving the students in Leeds and Yorkshire, proud of everything we have achieved together over three incredibly meaningful years.”

Leeds University

Sophie Dunoff, chief executive of UJC said: “During their time in the UK, the Deutschs have made a significant contribution to UJC and the Jewish student community in Leeds. Their dedication to their roles, supporting Jewish students and fostering a vibrant Jewish life on campus has been invaluable.

The dignity with which they faced the torrent of antisemitic abuse post 7th October was heroic, and I know gave strength and inspiration to the local Jewish student population. Despite the violent threats to which they were subjected, the Deutschs bravely decided to complete their three-year term of service. We are proud and in awe of their commitment to their students and the continuity of Jewish student life in Leeds and the Yorkshire region.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to engage with the University of Leeds and work with our partners in the Jewish community to ensure that Leeds remains a safe and welcoming place for Jewish students to attend university. We will also embark on a thorough recruitment process to identify a Chaplaincy couple to succeed the Deutschs.

“Whilst we are obviously sad to see Rabbi Zecharia and Nava Deutsch and their wonderful family leave, we offer them our heartfelt thanks and wish them every success back home in Israel.”

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