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April 4, 2012 Dear Friends, I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of the University of Chicago Hillel and Hillels Executive Director, Dan Libenson, to explain what has been going on over the past few days after the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago terminated its relationship with us and took control of the Hillel building last Friday. Most importantly, we want you to know that we are working to launch a new organization dedicated to serving Jewish students at the University of Chicago. The new organization, which does not yet have a name, will begin to function immediately with plans to launch a wide variety of programs for students in the fall. Launching this new organization is our highest priority so that the student experience at the University will be enhanced, which has been our focus and passion from the very beginning. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support that we have received for the new organization, and we welcome personal conversations in the days ahead to tell you more about what happened and what is planned. I send this letter now to give some background on the past two years leading to this unfortunate outcome and to let you know of our plans as we move ahead in the work on behalf of Jewish students on campus. Two weeks ago, the University of Chicago Hillel's Board of Directors, after a two-yearlong process of study and deliberation and a year of unsuccessful negotiations, informed the Jewish Federation of Chicago that we sought mediation to unwind Hillel's relationship with the Federation in an orderly fashion. The Jewish Federation responded two days later by dismissing the entire Hillel Board, which includes University of Chicago faculty, administrators, and students, and firing the Executive Director. For approximately ten years, the Hillel Board of Directors has operated under the corporate umbrella of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. As the Federations financial support for Hillel has declined, irreconcilable differences have become amplified, especially over the past two years, about mission and priorities. The Board has been committed to ensuring the continuity of the student programming that is at the heart of Hillels mission, programming that is critical to Jewish students at the University of Chicago and which the students have embraced with enthusiasm. (As just one example of this success, the University of Chicago Hillel has for two years in a row achieved the highest registration rate in the country for Birthright Israel trips.) Faced with pressure from the Federation to make cuts to student programming that the Hillel Board finds unacceptable, the Board has instead decided we can best serve students if we function as an independent entity.

As part of that decision, the Hillel Board has decided to end its corporate relationship with the Jewish Federation. The Board requested that the Federation sit down with us and use mediation to figure out the best way to restore University of Chicago Hillels independence. Almost every Hillel in the country is an independent non-profit corporation, and the Board seeks to employ that model. Corporate independence would allow the Board to make budget prioritization decisions based solely upon on the needs of the students at the University. Unfortunately, in an effort to assert its own priorities, the Federation responded to the Boards request for a mediated process of restoring Hillels independence by firing Hillels Board of Directors. The Federation also fired Hillels award-winning executive director, Dan Libenson. Dan has been recognized as a national leader, received International Hillels highest award and an AVI CHAI Fellowship, known as the Jewish communitys version of the MacArthur genius award. Finally, the Federation has threatened legal action if the Board uses the name Hillel" and has taken control of the Hillel building and assets. The Federation has installed a new acting executive director, Paul Saiger. The Board will pursue its mission by starting a new organization to continue the outstanding work designed and executed by Dan and the staff he hired and trained. While we no longer work under the Jewish Federations umbrella, we continue to work on behalf of the students of the University of Chicago and the Jewish future. The Hillel Board asserts that the Federation has acted improperly in the extreme and that Hillel has a right to unwind its affairs from those of the Federation when the Board determines that this would be best for students. We do not, however, intend to spend time or money in litigation. Rather, we will devote our full energies to building a new organization with a new name and location that can launch strongly in the fall. Because the Federation took its actions against the Board and executive director without prior notice Friday, it will take some months to set up the new organization, secure funding, hire staff, and begin work with students. We expect to engage Dan Libenson as the executive director of the new organization and to hire staff over the summer so that we can begin programming in the fall. Thank you again for your interest and support. Please feel free to contact me at or to contact Dan Libenson at for more information. We look forward to a beautiful Passover this year, contemplating what it means to work quickly to build something new and great, and we wish you the same. Sincerely, Ruth OBrien