Hillel International Board of Governors Chairman Randall Kaplan (left) with Avraham Infeld.
(Hillel International Board of Governors Chair Randall Kaplan presented Avraham Infeld with Hillel's Renaissance Award at an event on the campus of Columbia University on June 2. Below is the text of his remarks.)
Avraham is truly a global Jewish educator, innovator and leader.
In his remarkable lifetime he has led: Melitz; Arevim; the San Francisco Federation’s Amutot; the Israel Experience, Ltd.; the Israel Forum; the Shalom Hartman Institute; Gesher Education Affiliates; the Chais Foundation; and, of course, Hillel. He continues to travel the world promoting the significant survival of the Jewish people.
In recognition of his unique contributions to the Jewish people, in 2005 he was awarded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s prestigious Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education, the first specialist in informal Jewish education to be so honored.
Avraham cannot do it without the love and support of his wife Ellen and their four children who share his commitment to Israel and global Jewish peoplehood. They graciously accommodate his long trips far from home. Even more remarkably, they put up with his extended stays in Israel.
Everyone in this room has fond memories of you but from 2003 to 2006, I think I spent more time with you than your wife. We had a wonderful relationship as chairman and president of Hillel.
I never ceased to be amazed at your level of energy, your creativity, your enthusiasm, your ability to make complicated ideas compelling, and your ability to enchant students and lay leaders alike.
Who else could charm secular Jews and Chabadniks, not only in the same room but often in the same sentence?
During our tenure together we achieved a great deal. And by “we” I mean you.
- You enlarged Hillel's budget and expanded our Board of Governors.
- You created the Israel Fellows program and expanded it to 21 campuses
- You instituted winter missions to Israel.
- You enhanced Hillel's lay leadership training program and upgraded professional recruitment, training and retention.
- You undertook new approaches to Jewish education, including the creation of spirituality training seminars.
- You created Hillel’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
- You vastly expanded our social justice work.
- You strengthened our groups in the former Soviet Union and added groups in Israel and Latin America.
- But your true impact is on the individuals you have inspired through your work.
- You traveled the world discussing your core principles -- Memory, Family, Sinai, Israel, Hebrew – and you have changed lives.
You were once traveling through Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel when you were stopped by a young American woman. She showed you a locket that she wore around her neck. She had taken out the photo from inside and had the following words inscribed: Memory, Family, Sinai, Israel, Hebrew.
Avraham, your words are always close to all of our hearts.
On behalf of Hillel, it is my pleasure to present you with our Renaissance Award for enriching the campus, the Jewish community and the world.
We are presenting you with a copy of the poem “Ha Emunah,” “The Faith,” by Rabbi Isaac HaCohen Cook. This poem expresses Rabbi Cook’s faith that the Jewish people would “return to our Holy Land, to the city where David settled.”
Like you, Rabbi Cook was motivated by a deep faith to build the land of Israel. Like you, he traveled the world inspiring people with his love of Israel and the Jewish people.
May you continue to inspire us for many, many more years to come.
JTA reports on the event.
Maxim Yudin remarks.
Wayne L. Firestone remarks.
Main Infeld page.