Daniel Libenson, executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago, has been named one of five individuals to receive the prestigious AVI CHAI Fellows for 2009.
The AVI CHAI Foundation occupies a singular spot in North American Jewish life, defining its goals as fostering high levels of Jewish Literacy; deepening religious purposefulness and promoting Jewish Peoplehood and deeper connections to the State of Israel. Each of the AVI CHAI Fellows has demonstrated a track record of commitment towards these ends and although the award - $75K per fellow per year - will go towards their proposed activities, the purpose of The AVI CHAI Fellowship is to advance and promote the individual winners as important forces in building a vital American Jewish future built upon these values.
Libenson intends to use the AVI CHAI Fellowship to launch the creation of a center for Jewish ideas and innovation, which would leverage the power of the university for the benefit of the Jewish people. With a “faculty” of practitioner-scholars spending half their time on research, design, assessment, and dissemination and half their time implementing and experimenting on the ground, the center marries an academic think tank to a living laboratory, creating a rapid innovation cycle. The center, which will also seek to partner with and create non-student Jewish laboratory communities, will become an ideas engine for the Jewish people, playing the role in Jewish society that the university plays in general society.
Libenson has been executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago since 2006. At Chicago, he has created the “Jethro Initiative,” an effort to reimagine and redesign Hillel as an institution capable of delivering on its vision of “inspiring every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life.” The Jethro Initiative has attracted national attention and funding, including a prestigious Covenant Foundation Signature Grant.
Libenson graduated cum laude from Harvard College and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and clerked for Judge Michael Boudin on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Immediately prior to coming to Chicago, Libenson taught law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In college, Libenson served as president of Harvard Hillel. After graduation, he served as a member of its Board of Directors and strategic planning committee and spent three years on the professional staff as Director of New Initiatives. Libenson resides in Chicago with his wife, Beth Niestat, whom he met while they both served on the staff of Harvard Hillel, and with their two children, Sam and Miriam.
The recipients of the AVI CHAI Fellowship were selected from an initial pool of more than 43 nominations that were submitted by 18 nominators. The seven members of the selection committee met privately over the course of four months; the nominators and selections committee remain anonymous so that the integrity of the nomination and selection process not be compromised. The first cohort of AVI CHAI Fellows was announced in 2008.
AVI CHAI works toward achieving its goals via (1) supporting programs in the Jewish day school and camping fields, (2) strengthening key institutions in these fields, and (3) engaging partners and successors. “By “engaging partners and successors,” explains Yossi Prager, AVI CHAI’s Executive Director in North America, “we mean identifying and cultivating philanthropists, thought leaders and practitioners who advance our core goals, within and beyond the fields of our programmatic activities. The AVI CHAI Fellowship is an investment in those people.”