It was a return, of sorts, to a place he has never been.
Eric Fingerhut, the new CEO and President of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, visited the University of Illinois Hillel in Urbana-Champaign on October 10th. Although he may not have been there before, at least not in his current role, Hillel itself certainly has been there – and for longer than anywhere else. Ninety years ago, the campus was where the first Hillel was born. Today, on Fingerhut’s watch, there are more than 500 worldwide.
As he stopped at the UofI’s Margie K. and Louis N. Cohen Center for Jewish Life, as part of a cross-country tour of campuses, Fingerhut greeted participants at a new and innovative Illini student initiative, Hire U. The effort is dedicated to providing professional development to college students through a Jewish lens. Fingerhut told the 50 attendees to find their passion and let that drive their professional career.
Delivering the inaugural presentation at the event was Phyllis Tabachnick, Managing Director at JP Morgan and Co-Chair of The Hillels of Illinois, who spoke about her own professional and personal Jewish journey.
Later, at a reception for Champaign’s Jewish community, two dozen faculty, community members, Hillel staff and students, and representatives of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation met with Fingerhut. There he presented a plaque to Erez Cohen, the campus Hillel’s Executive Director, in celebration of Illini Hillel’s 90th anniversary.
Earlier in the day, in Chicago, Fingerhut met with key lay leaders and staff of the Hillels of Illinois and the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Discussing his first 50 days in office and reaffirming the importance of the Hillel/JUF partnership, he stressed the significance of instilling a sense of Jewish community – klal yisrael – and a love of Israel into Jewish campus life. He specifically pointed to JUF’s Israel Education Center as a model for Birthright recruitment and follow up, and for educating students about how critical Israel is to their Jewish identity.