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"The spotlight in this issue is on Rabbi Michoel Danow - Chabad at Leeds University"

In this edition we continue an exciting new feature: as we speak with leading Jewish personalities with a manchester connection.

The spotlight in this issue is on Rabbi Michoel Danow - Chabad at Leeds University

RABBI MICHOEL DANOW LEEDS CHABAD student rabbi owes much of his success to Manchester’s Lubavitch Yeshiva, where his eldest son Mendel is now studying, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps into shlichut.

Michoel is no stranger to Leeds for he lived there for his first couple of years. Globe-trotting Rabbi Danow was born in Milan where his French-born father Yehoshua Danow had trained as an opera singer. A few months after Michoel’s birth the family moved to Leeds where his father was a chazan in the Vilna Syngogogue.

After two years the family were on the move again as his parents failed to accustom them- selves to the British climate. They transferred to the German city of Cologne, where Chazan Danow was influenced by Lubavitch chassid Rabbi Avraham Gluck of Stamford Hill who trav- elled there on business.

Rabbi Danow recalled: “My father was involved in Rabbi Gluck’s mitzvah cam- paign. My father was very impressed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, his movement and its care for other Jews, especially the Russian Jews who were coming to Germany in the 1970s. My father went to see the Rebbe for the first time in 1974 for a private audience.

“But there was no Jewish education in Germany so my family moved to Nice where there was a Jewish school. Chabad was estab- lished in Nice around the time we came.” Six years later Chazan Danow took up his prestigious position in Paris’ Central Synagogue near the Place de la Republique. He is now retired.

It was in France that Rabbi Danow received his early Lubavitch education. In Nice he began going to Chabad camps and participating in the Tzivos Hashem youth movement.
In Paris he went to a Chabad school where he learnt only religious subjects from the age of 11. After barmitzvah he went to the Lubavitch Brunoy Yeshiva, near Paris, for two years.

Rabbi Danow’s Lubavitch education was greatly enhanced by a visit to the Rebbe in New York when he was 10. He said: “My mother won a raffle to New York and she took the whole family with her. It was my first time see- ing the Rebbe. It was a very special experience.

We had only seen pictures. I remember the attention that the Rebbe gave to children. The children always sat in the front and had the best view during davening. It was very special for me coming from a foreign country, although I didn’t know what was flying because every- one was talking Yiddish.

“But the Rebbe spoke French to a French group. He told me to be a five star general in Tzivos Hashem, which I did by learn- ing for mitzvah competitions.

I came back to see him three years later before my barmitz- vah for his bracha. I was so inspired that I used to go to the Rebbe every year for Succot and Pesach, using my barmitz- vah money for the tickets.”

But Rabbi Danow had one problem. He could not speak Yiddish, which was not taught in French Lubavitch institu- tions.
He said: “I felt really left out because I only spoke French and a bit of Hebrew as the Rebbe spoke in Yiddish in public. I couldn’t understand a word. It was very frustrating. I felt a very strong urge to learn Yiddish.”

Which was why he chose at the age of 15 to study at Manchester Lubavitch, where Yiddish is the order of the day. Not only did Rabbi Danow succeed in picking up the Jewish language very quickly but in Manchester he benefited greatly from the yeshiva’s high academic standards and mentoring skills. He said: “The yeshiva was amazing, a really special experience. It was like one big family. It shaped me as an adult to care unconditionally for others.”

Rabbi Danow remembers going every Friday, armed with Thought for the Week, to Park Hill, East Meade and West Meade when the area was not as packed with charedim as it is now.

He said: “We would chat to people and put tephillin on the men. They really appreciated it. We developed very good friendships. We were there for them in their simchas and sad times.”

Rabbi Danow was no stranger to these out- reach activities as he had been going out on a Friday in Nice and Paris from age of 12. But he said: “Manchester taught us how to meet people of all ages. My three years there were very beneficial.”

From Manchester Rabbi Danow was drawn back to the Rebbe in New York where he stud- ied in the nearby yeshiva in Crown Heights. He said: “I wanted to be close to the Rebbe. While in Manchester I continued visiting him twice a year. But 1989 was the first time I went to New York on a one-way ticket. I was able to see the Rebbe every day and became very close to him.”
Normally yeshiva students have to study for two years before they are sent on shlichut to do outreach work in far-flung communities. But after a year Rabbi Danow was put in a group going to New Haven, Connecticut, for two years.

He said: “Besides our own Torah studies, we learnt with the children and business people. I was lucky as some of my friends had been sent to Australia. But I was still near enough to see the Rebbe.”

Returning to New York to complete his rab- binical studies, Rabbi Danow was able to see the Rebbe until he became terminally ill in 1992.

In 1993 Rabbi Danow married Chana Sorah Loewenthal of Stamford Hill. After some time back in New York,
the couple went the following year on shlichut to Gothenburg, Sweden, where Chana Sorah’s brother Alexander Namdar had started a kindergarten. Rabbi Danow was asked to start a day school, which he did after running an afternoon cheder. Assimilation was rife in Sweden, especially in Gothenburg. Rabbi Danow said: “If there were one or two weddings a year in Gothenburg, it was a wow. There were very few britim. But we worked very hard with the youth to counter the trend.”

Their Swedish experience stood Rabbi Danow and his wife in good stead for their present position which they took up in 2007 at Leeds University.

The appointment was part of a programme, substantially funded by philanthropists David Slager and George Rohr, to establish a Chabad House on every British university with a sub- stantial Jewish population. They now number 14.

In Leeds Rabbi Danow was the first rabbi to actually live near the campus rather than in the further away Jewish area as had been the practice for previous Jewish university chaplains.

He said: “I live right next to the university. I was the first to live on campus. The other rab- bis, Russ Shulkes of the chaplaincy board and Melech Dovid Kanter of Aish followed. We all get along extremely well. There is lot of work to do with more than 1,000 Jewish students. Chabad reaches out to the large percentage of unaffiliated Jews.”

Rabbi Danow draws students in, particularly before Jewish festivals, by inviting them to Chabad House for Pizza and Parsha, Lunch ‘n’ Learn and Shabbat and yom tov meals.

He said: “Students are very easy-going. On campus they are used to being approached by different organisations. We found people who had never had a bar or a bat mitzvah. Two years ago my wife made a celebration for seven
girls who had never had a bat mitzvah. Their parents and friends came down for the celebration. We average 50-60 students for Friday Shabbat din- ner and up to 200 for Shabbat lunch. The student stage is dif- ficult. When they leave home,they appriciate a home from home-"
Rabbi Danow is always a ready ear for stu- dents with problems.

He says: “It is a difficult stage in their lives. If they are dating non-Jews, they need to be reminded of their Jewish identity. They need to balance their parties and socialising with their work. Sometimes their study causes them stress. They need to keep motivated.”

I interviewed Rabbi Danow on the day after his wife gave birth to their 11th child Chava. But that didn’t stop him attending to student needs, squeezing in my interview in between shopping for his wife and baby and Purim and then rushing out late in the evening to kosher a kitchen.

But his work is certainly paying dividends. Besides the fact that the students, some of whom have never seen a baby, are eager to give the large family a helping hand, Rabbi Danow gets much nachas from seeing the fruits of his labour.

He recently attended the South Manchester wedding of a couple who met at one of his Pizza and Parsha evenings and made a sur- prise attendance at the London brit of the son of another couple who met under similar circumstances.

He says: “The relationships we make with the students go a long way. They were over- joyed to see me make the effort to come to the brit. My work is a success if I enhance the Jewish experience of a student on campus.” And a success it certainly is!

“It is a difficult stage in their lives. If they are dating non- Jews, they need to be reminded of their Jewish identity. They need to balance their parties and socialising with their work. Sometimes their study causes them stress. They need to keep motivated.”