AU Hillel welcomes new executive director

AU Hillel welcomes new executive director
Welcome back--Alumnus Jason Benkendorf returns to AU as the AU Hillel executive director, replacing former director Rabbi Kenneth Cohen.

Rabbi Kenneth Cohen stepped down May 13 after serving a decade as the executive director of American University Hillel.

Jason replaced Cohen, the longest serving executive director in AU Hillel history, on Aug. 15.

Benkendorf graduated from AU in 2004 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Jewish Studies. He originally wanted to become involved in politics when he came to college. But eventually he changed his mind, and he ended up working at an organization called The Curriculum Initiative, an organization that works to increase ties among Jewish high school students.

“That work that I was doing in the Jewish community as a student leader, through internships and other experiences, was incredibly fulfilling for me,” Benkendorf said.

The position opened after he finished his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University.

He was picked for the position in a national search conducted by a committee made of AU Hillel Board of Directors members Saul Newman, Brianna Kirsh and David Manchester, and AU Board of Trustees members Gisela B. Huberman and Marc N. Duber.

“There was no question that Jason’s energy, enthusiasm and experience, as well as his knowledge of AU, was absolutely perfect,” said Saul Newman, the President of the AU Hillel Board of Directors and a member of the search committee.

Since his arrival at AU campus, Benkendorf has already made an impact. Some students and staff members said they were happy to have him back and are impressed with him.

“He can connect with just anyone, in that he’s approachable to any student,” said Kirsh, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and former president of AU’s Jewish Student Association .

Hillel’s primary responsibility is to hold services for Jewish students. However, Benkendorf emphasizes he wants to help improve the campus as a whole by engaging the AU community in debates over universal questions.

“Hillel has a role to play in the broader campus conversation,” he said.

Benkendorf would like to see other student organizations hold Jewish services so students can feel as if they can practice Judaism somewhere other than the Kay Spiritual Life Center.

“There’s no reason that, in additional to [regular Hillel-sponsored Sabbath services and dinners], fraternities and sororities can’t have their own chapter Shabbat dinners,” Benkendorf said.

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