Rabbi Ari Israel

Rabbi Ari Israel

Executive Director at the University of Maryland Hillel and  2024 Phyllis G. Margolius Impossible Dream Award recipient 

“It is profoundly humbling to be chosen as the recipient of this prestigious award, bestowed in remembrance of Phyllis Margolius, a cherished and exemplary Jewish lay leader. Dreaming the impossible is only imaginable through the unwavering dedication and collaborative efforts of my esteemed Hillel colleagues, cherished lay leaders, and loving family, who are my partners and inspiration.” 

Spend a Shabbat at Maryland Hillel on any given week and you will encounter five hundred- plus Jewish students from many Jewish backgrounds coming together to experience community, participate in religious services, or hear a guest educator. Drop in on one of Maryland Hillel’s five annual Birthright buses and speak with a student just beginning to foster a personal narrative about what their Jewish identity means. Visit a for-credit Jewish leadership class and listen to the robust dialogue as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Jews of all stripes delve into the text seeking wisdom under the tutelage of Rabbi Ari Israel. Or speak with any number of Jewish seniors now desiring employment in the Jewish world or picking their next home based on Jewish opportunities because of the transformative impact their college Jewish community had on them. These are a few manifestations of Rabbi Ari Israel’s tireless leadership over more than two decades.

Today, the Jewish community is rife with despair — and understandably so. Students on campuses around the country are grappling with record levels of antisemitism. Jewish youth are disaffected and alienated from Jewish life and learning. Before October 7th, relations between the diaspora and Israel were in chaos, and the notion of a united Israel/Klal Yisrael was also ancient history.

Yet, the University of Maryland presents a vastly different reality. Students active in Jewish life gravitate to College Park because Jewish opportunities are constrained only by the imagination. College Park is the national leader in levels of Jewish learning, expressions of Jewish life, Israel activity, and leadership training and engagement. What happens at the University of Maryland is emulated nationally and enriches Jewish communities wherever alumni seek to make their homes.

What is more, at a time when university administrations are failing the Jewish population dismally, the University of Maryland has come out vocally in support of Jewish students.

The secret to much of this success is Rabbi Ari Israel. Few Jewish professionals have the sheer breadth of relationship-building capacity embodied by Ari. He can at once appeal to and garner the respect of Jewish students, their parents, the university administration, on-campus partners, and colleagues. The ultimate act of leadership is cultivating other leaders; Rabbi Ari Israel has launched the leadership journeys of thousands.

The University of Maryland boasts the country’s fourth-largest public university Jewish population and the second most concentrated Jewish population based on nearly 20% of the total student body. Under Rabbi Ari’s leadership, Maryland Hillel has developed into one of the nation’s most engaged, with more than 4,000 of the University’s 6,000 undergraduate Jewish students coming to Hillel. His innovative programs, such as Spin Love, Not Hate, draw several hundred students and dozens of student groups, fostering cross-cultural inclusivity among diverse campus communities. Perhaps the biggest testament to his leadership is the number of weddings Ari has officiated at of his students, flying all around the country to be present for this important milestone in the lives of his students.

Rabbi Avi embodies mentschlikeit, punctilious ethical commitment, a deep desire to support every individual, and a genuine understanding of the value of leading a Jewish life.