Chicago Hillel Feuds With Federation

U. of C. Group Fights for Independence After Board Is Fired

Campus Feud: Daniel Libenson has been fired from his position as head of the University of Chicago’s Hillel, along with the entire board. The group wants to be independent from the Chicago Jewish federation, which controls it in an unusual arrangement.
courtesy daniel libenson
Campus Feud: Daniel Libenson has been fired from his position as head of the University of Chicago’s Hillel, along with the entire board. The group wants to be independent from the Chicago Jewish federation, which controls it in an unusual arrangement.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 10, 2012, issue of April 13, 2012.
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Jewish federation officials in Chicago have fired the head of the University of Chicago’s Hillel and the Hillel’s entire board in a bitter governance dispute that could result in two umbrella Jewish student groups dueling it out on campus.

The dismissed Hillel leadership wanted independence from the Chicago federation, which controls all Hillels in Illinois in an unusual arrangement. Federation officials say the former Hillel leadership was financially mismanaging the Hillel.

Some University of Chicago students, meanwhile, say their concerns are getting lost in the institutional crossfire.

“It absolutely feels like a hostile takeover,” said Stephen Lurie, a University of Chicago junior who has been active in the Hillel. “There’s been no transparency about a decision that really affects us.”

The feud came to a head March 30, when the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago dismissed Daniel Libenson from his position as executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago. The JUF also ordered the group’s advisory board to be disbanded.

“We don’t feel that they’re good fiscal stewards,” said John Lowenstein, the Chicago JUF official responsible for overseeing all Illinois Hillels.

The dismissals came after the board submitted a letter to the JUF, threatening to resign and form a rival group if the federation didn’t agree to enter discussions over granting the independence to the campus Hillel.

“It’s about governance,” Sara Segal Loevy, vice president for development of the dismissed board, said of the dispute. “It’s about whether or not the decisions about a particular program and a particular Hillel are made at the local level or if they’re made centrally.”

The feuds points to the idiosyncratic arrangement between the Chicago JUF and Hillels in Illinois.


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