By Lisette Dolgin
Robert W. Matanky
Rabbi Hillel’s famous quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? ” gives insight into the qualities Hillel, as a student organization, seeks to imbue in its students to prepare them to be communal leaders. Robert W. Matanky answered Hillel’s call over 30 years ago as a student leader at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and The Hillels of Illinois has been blessed ever since.
“The values that I saw in him as a college student are the same values he has emulated as an adult: passion for the Jewish community, for improving the quality of life for Jews overall, and, in particular, for ensuring that all Jewish college students have the opportunity to claim their Jewish heritage in a way that is personally meaningful to them,” explained Patti Ray, who was Mr. Matanky’s Hillel Director back when he was a student at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus, now known as the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
As a student in the ‘70s, Mr. Matanky was an active member of his Hillel, serving as Vice President, and was instrumental in promoting a Jewish presence on campus. Circle Campus was a hotbed for anti-Israel activity at the time. After anti-Israel protestors stormed an Israel Independence Day event, the university prohibited the Hillel students from throwing another such celebration. Mr. Matanky was instrumental in helping to garner the resources necessary- from the Jewish Federation, as well as from state legislators- to assure that the University’s policy would be overturned.
After graduation, Mr. Matanky remained involved, joining the Hillel/College Age Youth Services Commission, the precursor to The Hillels of Illinois, and became involved in the process of providing students at UIC a place to call home. As a student “he kept saying that we need our own building,” Patti recalled, “I thought it was a fantastic idea, but improbable. “ Paul Cherner, a leading figure in the development of the Levine Hillel Center and Chair of the Governing Commission when the building opened, worked tirelessly with Mr. Matanky to ensure the success of the building. “Every inch of the building needed to be inviting,” Mr. Matanky explained. It was truly a building designed with the help of a former Hillel student, for future Hillel students. Through a generous and inspiring gift from the Levine family through the Jewish Federation’s Continuum program, the Mildred & William Levine Hillel Center opened in 1990.
Patti Ray believes Mr. Matanky inherited his dedication to Jewish life from his father, Eugene z’’l, and his mother, Trude. “Eugene Matanky z’’l was a builder, literally and figuratively, of the Jewish community, said Patti, “Trude still remains the strong core of the family. I think Bobby had tremendous role models in his parents, which is why he and all of his siblings are active leaders in the Jewish community today.”
“My father’s active leadership always served as an inspiration. I grew up recognizing the obligation to work together with all Jews to support, preserve and help build the community,” Mr. Matanky explained. Robert Matanky eventually became the Chair of The Hillels of Illinois, committed to the lessons he learned from his father. Today he continues to serve on the Commission and represents the region on the International Board of Directors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. His many achievements include fostering the creation and growth of Hillels Around Chicago and expanding services for all of the Jewish students in Illinois.
“We are fighting a battle here trying to keep young Jewish people involved in being Jewish, Bobby is a perfect example of someone who carries that banner very passionately,” said Ila Lewis, Hillel Governing Commission member and a former Chair. The Jerusalem Talmud B’rachot says, “anyone who is involved in the welfare of the public is as if he is involved in words of Torah.” As Mr. Matanky continues his holy work, his vision, leadership, and commitment to Jewish life continues to have a profound impact.
Robert W. Matanky will be presented with The Hillels of Illinois Exemplary Leadership Award at The Hillels of Illinois 20th Annual Benefit on Thursday, June 24, 2010 at the Standard Club. The evening will include a dinner and dessert reception, a Silent Auction, and will feature a live performance of The Second City’s travelling troupe. Sponsorship opportunities are available, as are opportunities to advertise in the Event Program Book. For more information, call 312-673-2354 or visit www.TheHillelsofIllinois.org.
The Hillels of Illinois, a partner in serving our community, is supported by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.