As the founding director, Maurice Pekarsky joined UChicago Hillel in 1940. Ordained at the Jewish Institute for Religion, Maurice was responsible for the establishment of the National Hillel Summer Institute, which he guided, and also headed its department of leadership training. Many said that he could have been a national director at Hillel, but Maurice felt most at home on campus, most at ease with students. Abram Sachar, who recruited him for Hillel, said of Pekarsky, "His was no negative faith. He was serenely positive in his relationship to a living God. [He] had an inner fire that warmed without burning, that glowed without searing, and legions of students carried that brightness away with them from his presence."
Alfred Jospe, Maurice’s friend and colleague, said that "under his leadership, the Hillel Foundation at the University of Chicago became a unique intellectual and cultural center for the entire campus community, a forum for the study and discussion of vital issues of moral and social significance. He attracted some of the great minds on the faculty of the University of Chicago to Hillel" not only to speak but to learn. It was a tradition that empowered his successors and served as an example to others. He worked at UChicago Hillel until he passed away in 1962.
Max Ticktin became the director in 1964 following the death of Maurice Pekarsky. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Max came to Chicago from the University of Wisconsin and continued the tradition of deep intellectual engagement that was the hallmark of the UChicago Hillel. He regularly taught classes at Hillel on a variety of topics, and often with the associate director, Danny Leifer. The program that developed under Max included Friday night “Fireside Chats” with many of UChicago’s world-renowned faculty members. Max, Danny, and Esther Ticktin also founded the Upstairs Minyan, one of the first traditional havurah-style egalitarian minyanim, in the country. Max left the University of Chicago in 1972 and served as the assistant national director at the Hillel International Center until 1978, and subsequently served on the faculty at The George Washington University until his retirement in 2014.
Following Max's departure, Daniel I. Leifer served as the Executive Director of UChicago Hillel for 25 years. He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Under Danny’s direction, UChicago Hillel became a gathering place for faculty members wishing to discuss religious issues, adding to its reputation of being one of the most intellectual Hillels in the country. Danny also built up the Davidson Library, which now has a national reputation for excellence.
"He loved Jewish learning, loved to study and teach others, both directly and by example. He had a direct, positive influence on hundreds–if not thousands–of students, faculty, staff and others, from all walks of life," said Rabbi Suzanne Griffel, a Hillel colleague. Danny elevated the status of The Annual Latke Hamantash Debate to the level of a city-wide, nationally known and imitated event. Danny also organized a series of dinners and other opportunities to share rituals between Jewish and Muslim students.
Danny joined the UChicago community in 1964 as Associate Director of Hillel, becoming Director in 1971. He worked at UChicago Hillel until he passed away in 1996.
His memory is kept alive on campus through an annual spring lecture open to students, faculty, and community members, and also through a memorial scholarship that supports social justice work in Israel.
The Davidson Library is the finest Hillel library in the country, featuring more than five thousand books and multi-media resources.
5715 S. Woodlawn Ave
The Hillel building on 5715 S. Woodlawn was constructed in 1904. It was designed by the noted Chicago architect, Howard Van Doren Shaw, and boldly combines Georgian and Beaux-Arts traditions. In 1944, the building was donated to Hillel in memory of Lieutenant Raymond Karasik of the US Marine Corps Reserves, who was killed in action in 1943. In 1989, the Newberger family sponsored a renovation of the building and the addition of the Chapel. At that time, UChicago Hillel became part of the Hillels of Illinois, a department of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the building was named the Johanna and Herman H. Newberger Hillel Center.