The sacred work of our community

The University of Chicago mourns two community members.

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Ilan Naibryf (left) and Max Lewis served as leaders in the University of Chicago Jewish community.

Before we leave a house of mourning, tradition teaches that we speak the following words: "May the Omnipresent comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." 

When we leave a house of mourning, we reassure mourners, and offer them comfort. We remind them that they are connected to Jewish mourners across millennia and around the world.  

This is our work, as we honor the memories of the University of Chicago Jewish student leaders who were lost in July. The work of JUF is to ensure that the families of Max Lewis and Ilan Naibryf feel surrounded and supported by the strength of our community. When I read the stories in the papers, the tragic realities still send shockwaves through me. 

Max was killed by a stray bullet while commuting home from a summer internship. Ilan lost his life in the collapse of the Surfside building. Neither event seems possible. And yet, even in death, both were surrounded by the commitment of the Jewish community in Chicago and worldwide to do good in the world.   

The development of UChicago's level 1 trauma center was a priority of Chicago's Jewish community-and Max was able to be surrounded by family and the love of friends in his final days because of that commitment. And while the skilled doctors were not able to save Max's life, they gave him the chance to say goodbye, and his mother the chance to cradle his face in her hands one last time. And an IDF rescue team-part of Israel's National Rescue Unit-was present at Surfside, Miami. Max and Ilan were surrounded by the values and commitments of the Jewish community in life and at the time of their tragic deaths.   

Max and Ilan had so much in common. They were athletes with remarkable intelligence and a drive to achieve. And they were known for their generosity of time and spirit, and their commitment to friends and family. Max and Ilan were both leaders-stepping up to build the Jewish community on campus. Both were ready to stand up for Israel. Ilan was active in pro-Israel work on campus and Max's relationship with Israel was blooming-sparked by a Birthright trip through the Chicago community with Metro Chicago Hillel staff.   

Max's friend and fraternity brother, Zach Cogan, wrote, "He was the best of us. He was so caring and selfless." One of Ilan's campus friends wrote, "Ilan was a proud Jew and an incredibly special friend-every conversation and interaction with him left you a better person." And friends from Chicago have been there, supporting the families of the friends that they loved.   

Supported by my friends and colleagues through JUF and Hillel, I have been proud to serve as a representative of the work we do. As I've travelled to be present for mourners, both to Denver and then to Miami, the words of  Tefilat Haderech  have strengthened me. In this prayer, we ask that all the work of our hands be blessed as we travel. I'm grateful that the work of my hands as I travel has been the sacred work of supporting our community-the sacred work which is always at the core of everything we do.   

Anna Levin Rosen is the Executive Director and Rabbi of the University of Chicago Hillel. 

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