100 Alumni We Love!

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In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hebrew University’s founding, CFHU is honouring our exceptional alumni with the launch of our “100 Alumni We Love” campaign. Please check back with us every Wednesday as we honour another one of our great alumni. Each honouree will tell us in his/her own words what impact going to Hebrew U had on them and how it helped shape who they are today.

  • Please note: HU alums featured in our "100 Alumni We Love" campaign are not listed ranking order. We love all HU'ers equally! smiley face


Day 1 - Daniel WoskDay 2 - Hyla PollakDay 3 - Benjamin BabinsDay 4 - Melissa MuskatDay 5 - David Kendal and Ellen BenskyDay 6 - Lenny Baranke and Ita KleinerDay 7 - Lorne PersikoDay 8 - Tracy WilderDay 9 - Shonnie Benaroch


100 Alumni We Love - Daniel Wosk

Reflections on my time at HU

By Daniel Wosk, Vancouver

I attended Rothberg toward the end of my undergraduate degree. Living in Jerusalem and studying at HU was a profound experience that continues to have a positive impact in my life.  As a student, I enjoyed a range of subjects from Jerusalem Archaeology to Israeli Foreign Policy. Advancing my Hebrew in Ulpan was a particularly rewarding challenge that I benefit from to this day. I’m especially moved by the incredible research, innovation, social impact and leadership that continuously emerge from the university.

For the past five years, I’ve had the privilege to serve on the board of CFHU Vancouver. Since 2016. I’ve enjoyed raising funds for the Einstein Legacy Student Scholarships by simply hosting ice hockey games. I really appreciate the individuals who have adopted this tradition in other cities and all those who have participated. Not only are we sponsoring an increasing number of deserving students to make a difference at HU, but our support network across the country is growing steadily. 

Since my time with HU, I’ve been more connected and involved in my community. With thanks to the amazing work I see happening in and around the university, I do more tikun olam [repairing the world] and volunteer for a variety of causes on a regular basis. I’m also making more conscious choices and investments in business and in life. 

It’s an honour to share my time and resources with a place that makes such valuable contributions to this world and all humanity, while continuing to provide me with great friendships, memories and inspiration. 

  • Daniel Wosk went on the one-year study abroad program at HU’s Rothberg International School in 2007-2008.


100 Alumni We Love - Hyla Pollak

Reflections on my time at HU

By Hyla Pollak, Toronto

The first time I went to Israel, I was 17 years old on Canadian Young Judaea’s Biluim Israel summer program and we did some university tours. My friend, Sindi Hendler was also on that Israel trip and as we toured the school, saw the view from Mt Scopus, and felt the exciting electrified atmosphere at the time, we knew right then and there we'd be coming to HU for a one-year program.

Our staff member on our Biluim Israel trip actually worked at the HU office during the year and she was very instrumental in helping us make our decision. At the time, we had Grade 13 so that gave me a few years to work and save money for my year abroad. I chose York University in Toronto as my school mainly because they would accept all of my HU credits!

So, in September of 1987 I was on a plane headed to my dream year with my friend Sindi on the One Year Program. I knew it would be exciting and fun but I never dreamed how much it would change my life. I had gone to Jewish day schools and already felt like I’d “learned it all” but realized quickly that just wasn’t the case. The first surprise was realizing that, while I had a decent working knowledge of the Hebrew language, I had no idea that there was a day to day “slang” in the conversational Hebrew and the language I was speaking all those years sounded biblical and ancient.

My first shock was asking where the “beit shimush” was and getting laughed at only to find out it was called “shirutim”.  My second surprise was beginning to understand that while I had been learning about historical Israel my entire school life, I really had no knowledge of modern Israel (and also realized that my historical knowledge was a drop in the bucket). So I became a sponge trying to learn everything I could.

Most of all, there were the friends I made who were all there that year because they had a love of Israel. It had never dawned on me that there were people my age from all over the world who had also grown up learning about this country; who also had a dream of studying there. We were unified because of that dream, that passion and that love. To this day I’ve remained friends with a lot of those people and see many of them quite often. We had a reunion a few years ago and after getting over the initial shock of seeing each other after 30 years, we all just sat around and reminisced and laughed. It was like no time had passed.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been back to Israel many, many times since my year at HU and while I love the entire country, I don’t feel quite at home until I step foot into Jerusalem. That was my home for one amazing year, and I still feel like it’s my home now.

•    Hyla is VP Talent Management at Newtopia Inc. in Toronto. She went on the one-year study abroad program at HU’s Rothberg International School in 1987-1988.


100 Alumni We Love - Benjamin Babins

Reflections on my time at HU

By Benjamin Babins, Toronto

Throughout my time in high school, I was involved in my local Jewish community, running events through an organization called JYN (Jewish youth network) it was, at the time, a group of about 20 high school students who planned, organized and executed various events for the Jewish community. I worked with them throughout my 4 years of high school, eventually becoming president of the student run organization. At the end of my time there, I was given a young leadership award which came with a round trip flight to Israel and a grant for any education I did while I was in Israel.

I took that opportunity to not just go for a short trip, but to do a full year of exchange. Having gone to Queen’s for Political Science, my priority was to get the best education in International and Israeli politics as I could. Combining that with the unbreakable connection that I, like many Jews have, with Jerusalem, led me to study at Hebrew U.

The thing that impacted me most from studying at Hebrew U was the professors. Having professors that worked in their respective fields for their whole careers, and then came to give a life’s worth of knowledge to the students who came to study is an experience unlike any other university experience I have had.

Learning from professors like Dr. Medzini and his wealth of knowledge and first hand experience in Israeli politics inspired me to make Israel, her history and her conflicts one of the focal points of my degrees back home. I have used what I learned from his classes at every opportunity I could throughout my Degree. That knowledge gave me a strong foundation and expertise on Israeli politics that few others have. Because of his classes I got involved in International and Israeli politics when I returned to Queen’s and it became a big part of my life on campus.

Learning Archaeology from Prof. Marva Balouka, although not my field of study, was enlightening and just simply so enjoyable. We got to walk through Jerusalem, a city of archaeology and immense history with someone who knew what was underneath every stone. When I had friends or family come visit me in Israel, I would take them on those same tours, step for step and do my best to retell the stories of Jerusalem’s history as she did, trying my best to inspire them the way that she inspired me.

The specialized knowledge and personal first hand experience that all the professors at Hebrew U have gives them an intimate relationship with the subject matter. Those courses weren’t just studies or published papers to the professors we had, they were the culmination of a careers work and the passion and energy and LIFE with which they taught gives you a different relationship with the material than any other classroom.

  • Ben is a Recruitment Coordinator at EY (Ernst & Yong) in Toronto. He went on the one-year study abroad program at HU's Rothberg International School in 2012-2013


100 Alumni We Love - Melissa Muskat

Reflections on my time at HU

By Melissa Muskat, Toronto

I was in my last year at CHAT and had never been to Israel. I had already been thinking of two different options for the summer of 1983: 1) go on the Kibbutz summer program with CHAT; or 2) go on Ramah in Israel (I was a Ramahnik). Then, a few of my CHAT friends said that they were thinking of going to Hebrew University for their first year of University. At that point, I knew I wanted to apply to law school, so my undergrad years could be as general as I wanted and I could study anything. I researched Hebrew U and thought that the curriculum for the one- year program was so varied and interesting and I thought “what better way to see Israel than to live there for the year”. So, I spent the summer in Ulpan and started the one-year program in the Fall.

Studying at Hebrew U, created my connection to Israel and fostered my love for the country and the people. I had always had a connection to the Jewish Community but Israel was something that I had only “learned about”. The courses offered at Hebrew University allowed me to immerse myself in Israeli literature, geography and history and, of course, being there let me experience Israeli life.  My classmates were both Israelis (as I took some regular courses) and international students. My residence mates were Jews and Arabs. I returned to Canada and focused my communal volunteer work on charities that helped those in Israel. I attended community events in support of Israel. I came back with a better understanding of how Jews and Arabs lived side by side (keep in mind this was well before the first Intifada). I matured as a person and became a much more independent person. It truly was an experience of a lifetime!

  • Melissa Muskat is a Partner in Minden Gross LLP’s Property Taxation and Assessment Law Group in Toronto.


100 Alumni We Love - David Kendal and Ellen Bensky

Reflections on my time ay HU

By David Kendal, Toronto

I attended Hebrew U on the one-year program in 1983/84. How I got there was a bit of a journey. Since the time I was 16 and spent my first summer in Israel I knew I wanted to go back for an extended stay. After my first year at York university (1982) I decided that the time to go was then. Unfortunately, my younger brother Darren was killed in an auto accident week’s before my departure.

Under the circumstance I decided to postpone my departure for another year.  This turned out to be a decision that would effect the rest of my life. Spending the year at Hebrew U, learning, studying and most importantly living life became one of the most important and influential times in my life.

But by going the following year it gave me the opportunity to meet my future partner Ellen Bensky from the US. We got married a few years after leaving Hebrew U and have been married now for over 31 years, and have three wonderful children.

I tell my kids the story from time to time of how life can be a tricky path to follow sometimes. How a horrible event in ones life can sometimes open the door and pave the path to riches you never thought were possible.

Since returning to Toronto, I have been involved with The Canadian Friends Alumni off on from the beginning. Along with a few others I helped establish the original March Madness fundraiser, along with Co chairing the Madness events with my long time friend and HU roommate Lorne Persiko. I’m proud of being an Alumni to one of the greatest learning establishments in the world. Thank you Hebrew U!

  • David is a Yoga Instructor at Yoga Corp.ca and Ellen is a Principal at Turner Fleischer Architects Inc. in Toronto.


100 Alumni We Love - Lenny Baranek and Ita Kleiner

Reflections on our time at HU

By Lenny Baranek & Ita Kleiner - Toronto

I knew a few people who had done the One Year Program at Rothberg in prior years and each one came back really happy, more independent, and with a strong connection to Israel.  It seemed like an ideal match for me and that is exactly what it turned out to be. I went to Rothberg for the year in 1983-84.

I spent the year in the Reznick residences and lived in and enjoyed the great city of Jerusalem (including playing basketball in the hills of Mt Scopus while overlooking the Old City). I studied some courses that deepened my understanding of subjects that I had been (and continue to be) interested in - Middle East Politics, Jewish History, Hebrew and Yiddish.

I was very fortunate to have spent a very formative year of my life at Hebrew U. It allowed me to understand Israel in a way that it is impossible without having physically been there.  I also met and made some lifelong friends (including, and especially, my wife, Ita)!

  • Lenny is a Partner in the Commercial Real Estate Department of Minden Gross LLP and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.

I spent one semester at Hebrew U in January - June 1984. I was looking for a way to spend significant time in Israel - to have both a meaningful and fun experience. Hebrew U and its gorgeous campus gave me the ideal opportunity. I was able to further explore and love Jerusalem and Israel. Every weekend was spent discovering it all. During the week- courses, taught by professors who left a huge impact on me, were stimulating and awe inspiring.

The people and friendships I made are still part of my life-especially since I met my husband there - Lenny Baranek. So I can thank Hebrew U for the best gift- a very happy life with Lenny in Toronto.

  • Ita spent many years as a Search Consultant at a Toronto based IT/Executive Search Placement Firm.

Mazal Tov to Hebrew University on its 100 years!!


100 Alumni We Love - Lorne Persiko

Reflections on my time at Hebrew U

By Lorne Persiko - Toronto

I went to Hebrew U on the One Year Program in my second year at University of Toronto in 1983-84 and loved my experiences there. It really shaped who I would become in the future. I made lifelong friendships and developed a great love for Israel. I was so taken with Hebrew U that upon my return to Toronto, I have been volunteering in one capacity or another for the last 35 years! I am co-chair of the annual Alumni Online Madness Sports Tournaments fundraising campaign and I am a member of CFHU’s National Board.

My family and I wanted to provide other Canadian students with the life changing opportunity that I had, so we a created a scholarship fund in memory of our parents to help send deserving Canadian students to study at Hebrew U.  To date, I am proud to say that we have awarded over 45 scholarships from the Bernard & Elinore Persiko Merit Scholarship Fund. Mazel Tov to Hebrew U on your 100th anniversary.

  • Lorne is a Managing Partner at Westhaven Capital in Toronto.


100 Alumni We Love - Tracy Wilder

Reflections on my time at HU

By Tracy Wilder, Toronto

When I was 16 years old, I went on seminar with Camp Ramah to Israel. As part of our trip we were given a tour of the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University. And I remember distinctly, walking around the campus in total awe. I knew right then that I would come back to attend Hebrew U. It had a magnetic pull for me and was by far my favourite year of university.

I decided to spend my first year of university at Hebrew U, not my second or third. It was a year full of discovery for me. It was about growing up and becoming independent. I was able to indulge in my love of travel and took great advantage of time off. I went to Kenya, Turkey, Greece, Scotland, England, France and Poland during the school breaks.

I made lifetime friendships and my love for Israel and Jerusalem was cemented, and has only grown stronger since. I remember clearly, after travelling around Israel that year being amazed by the feeling that anywhere I was in Israel, I was standing on top of so much world and Jewish history. I also remember distinctly feeling like it was very freeing to feel like I wasn’t a minority. I never had that growing up in Waterloo, so it was a life changing time for me.

  • Tracy spent many years as a strategic advisor in the recruitment industry in Toronto. She attended the one-year study abroad program at HU’s Rothberg International School from 1987-1988.


Shonnie Benaroch

Reflections on my Time at HU!

By Shonnie Benaroch, Montreal

I have always felt a very special connection to Israel. For me, it’s about more than just growing up in a Zionist home and learning about Jewish and Israeli history in school. It’s about more than the beautiful beaches, delicious food and incredible atmosphere.

I remember crying the very first time I landed at Ben Gurion airport 10 years ago and not understanding why. As soon as we touched down, a wave of inexplicable emotions washed over me and it’s those same feelings that led me to study at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 6 years later in 2014. Feelings I now understand are as simple as feeling at home.

When deciding where to study abroad, my friends and I were overwhelmed with options of Universities all around the world, but for me, the choice was easy. Hebrew U is not only located in my favourite country in the world, it is also a world-class institution that has produced countless political, scientific, economic, medical and business leaders.

Studying Business Administration at HUJI and living in Jerusalem gave me the opportunity to learn from industry experts, explore so much of Israel, celebrate Purim the right way, eat the best falafel in the world, improve my Hebrew, dance in the streets for Yom Ha’atzmaut, make lifelong friendships and create lasting memories 5,500 miles away from my house, while still feeling perfectly at home. It’s an experience I will cherish forever.

  • Shonnie is an Alumni Relations Officer, Corporate Engagement Programs at McGill University in Montreal. She went to Hebrew U in 2014 for one semester, studying at the Business Administration School.


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