Amid Violent, Antisemitic Threats, Straus-Amiel Rabbinic Emissaries Hold Torah Dedication on UK University Campus

Following weeks of living under nearly constant threat, a rabbinical emissary couple serving in the University Jewish Chaplaincy at the University of Leeds celebrated a moment of Jewish pride as Jewish students dedicated a Sefer Torah to the campus.  The couple, Rabbi Zecharia and Nava Deutsch, who are emissaries of the Ohr Torah Stone network’s Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Institute, have been the subject of intense, violent threats as a result of Zecharia serving in the IDF reserves over the course of the war.

Zecharia and Nava Deutsch
Rabbi Zecharia and Nava Deutsch

Since Rabbi Zecharia returned to the campus last month after having been called up for emergency military service in Gaza, pro-Palestinian groups have targeted the couple, calling for their dismissal and requiring them to live with constant security and coordinate their activities with local law enforcement.  The situation had escalated to graphically violent threats, requiring the couple and their two small children to be accompanied by a security guard – but hasn’t deterred them in their service to the student community at this most crucial time in Jewish history.

“These past few weeks have certainly been disturbing and frightening but there is a real sense that the threats have also allowed our community to come together and grow ever stronger and reinforced the importance of our work as emissaries,” Rabbi Deutsch says.

Leeds hachnasat Sefer Torah

While the Torah project had been in the works prior the outbreak of the war, the couple says that the fact that it was dedicated now, with support from the Conference of European Rabbis and participation of the North Leeds Jewish community, made for a very meaningful event. “Since October 7th, Jewish students on UK campuses have been facing unprecedented hostility,” he said. “They have been confronted with overt antisemitism and ferocious anti-Zionism on a daily basis, leading to a truly toxic and threatening campus environment. Specifically, the Leeds campus has suffered from antisemitic graffiti on the Hillel house and my family were threatened by death and rape threats.

“In light of all the darkness,” he continued, “we felt that now, more than ever, it was extremely important to strengthen the Jewish presence on campus and to enhance Jewish pride and Jewish identity by doing the Hachnasat Sefer Torah.”

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Director of the Straus-Amiel Emissary Institute, saluted the initiative and the courage of the Deutsch family saying, “In your extraordinary way, when you were confronted with a truly challenging situation, you responded by becoming the leaders that your community needed. This is another example where emissaries from Israel who come with a relatively simple goal of educating and inspiring Jewish lives are transformed into critical players in their local communities at the times when that leadership is needed most.”

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone added, “Over the past few weeks we have been inspired and uplifted by the ongoing courage and strength of Rabbi Zecharia and Nava Deutsch who continue to defend Jewish ideals in the face of violent threats. They are nothing less than modern-day Jewish heroes.  Our every focus has been on ensuring they remain safe and secure and we continue to monitor the situation very closely.  Jewish tradition teaches us that there is no such thing as a coincidence and we know that the fact that this Torah was able to be dedicated specifically now is to send us the message that our traditions, values and history have always been what has guaranteed our immortality. This is as true now when our enemies are committed to our destruction, as any time in the past.”

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