Daniel Libenson, executive director of the University of Chicago’s Newberger Hillel Center, was chosen as an Avi Chai Foundation fellow earlier this month.
Libenson is one of five winners selected from a pool of more than 43 nominees to receive the three-year, $225,000 grant. He said the money will help “continue to build the thinking engine behind what the Hillel is doing.”
“Dan sees Hillel as more than an activity center,” said Lee Solomon (AB '08), a development officer at the Newberger Hillel Center, “but an organization responsible for connecting to and inspiring all Jewish students to pursue a Jewish life in whichever way is meaningful to them.”
According to the press release announcing the award, the Avi Chai fellowship is aimed at “fostering high levels of Jewish Literacy; deepening religious purposefulness and promoting Jewish Peoplehood and deeper connections to the State of Israel."”The award is given by the Avichai Foundation, which provides funding for Jewish educational projects nationwide.
Libenson, who has worked at the University's Hillel Center since 2006, said his work takes “very much a University of Chicago approach” to achieving those goals, “taking the time to think creatively about connecting with Jewish students” in order to understand the variety of meanings that the significance of Jewish life can have to different individuals.
Solomon added: “Dan came to the U of C with a set of ideas so far beyond what any other Hillel was doing, that at the time, no one really understood. But after three years, not only has he had a huge impact on Jewish life locally, he has earned a series of national recognitions validating his work.”
The Newberger Hillel Center fosters Jewish life through formal programming including lectures, workshops, educators-in-residence, Passover meals, and several excursion experiences designed to “make being Jewish relevant to every Jewish person,” according to Libenson.
Additional reporting by Alison Sider
Correction: the original version of this article incorrectly identified Libenson's fellowship as sponsored by the national Hillel Center.