Cornell Welcomes New OU Torah Educators, the Leibs

09 Sep 2008

The couple, both of whom are American-born and lived in Israel for the past several years, will serve approximately 75 Orthodox students, as well as several hundred students who participate in the campus Hillel and the Cornell Center for Jewish Living.

The JLIC program features intensive study of Jewish texts, Sabbath and holiday observance, daily synagogue services, as well as mentoring and good companionship. It is dedicated to the enhancement of Orthodox communities on campus by promoting positive growth and identity among Jewish students, therefore serving as one of the incubators of the future of Orthodoxy.

Some of the programs the couple is planning for the upcoming school year include regular classes focusing on Jewish subjects and one-on-one learning during the evenings and on Shabbat. In preparation for the upcoming High Holidays, the Leibs are coordinating a trip to an apple orchard in nearby Newfield, while learning about Jewish customs for Rosh Hashanah, which include dipping apples in honey. Rosh Hashanah begins Tuesday, September 30 this year.

JLIC, which is now in its ninth year, includes fourteen other campuses across the United States and Canada: Boston University; Brandeis University; University of Massachusetts/Amherst; Yale University; New York University; Princeton University; Rutgers University; University of Pennsylvania; Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland; University of Florida; University of Illinois; UCLA; and York University in Toronto.

JLIC operates in coordination with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the Torah Mitzion organization, and the Cornell Center for Jewish Living to support and tend to the spiritual needs of the students. Although targeted to the Orthodox, JLIC is open to all Jewish students, regardless of level of observance. It is based at Hillel, with the couple being part of both the Hillel and OU staffs.

The Leib family, which includes Jason, Chana, and their two sons, five-year-old Betzalel and three-year-old Nitai, are coming to Cornell straight from Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, their home in the south of Israel. Rabbi Leib, who holds a BA from Yeshiva University, taught Talmud and Jewish thought at a yeshiva on the kibbutz, simultaneously serving as a student mentor at Ben-Gurion University, where he taught a wide variety of Jewish topics. Rabbi Leib’s experiences interacting with students have instilled in him a special love for teaching both inside and outside of the classroom.

Chana, who studied Talmud in an Israeli women’s seminary before earning a degree in Law and Liberal Arts (LLB) from Hebrew University and working as a legal assistant for a judge in the District Court of Be’er Sheva in Israel, is now finishing up her Masters in Law (LLM) through a joint program between Tel Aviv University and Northwestern University. Besides her work with the undergraduate students, Chana plans to hold “Soup and Study” sessions for the Cornell law students that explores the connection between American and Jewish law.

Jason declared, “I became aware of the challenges many students face when they attend secular college after leaving a Jewish day school from my experience as a rabbi in yeshiva in Israel. Chana and I both feel that working on a secular campus and providing learning opportunities, helping enhance the Jewish infrastructure, and forming meaningful relationships with students could be of real value and have a lasting impact on their lives.”

Chana explained, “Jason and I are both extremely interested in Jewish education and are both native-born English-speakers, so while we want to live in Israel long-term, we also wanted to take the opportunity to make a mark somewhere in educational work with college students. It was a good match with Cornell University.”

Rabbi Menachem Schrader, Founding Director of JLIC, declared, “The Leibs have entered the Cornell campus with great excitement, and with a powerful sense of mission.”

Rabbi Ilan Haber, JLIC National Director, said, “Jason Leib is an experienced educator on both an informal and a formal level. He’s worked with both high school and college students before in different capacities and his excitement to be doing this is palpable. Chana has a background that includes both informal Jewish education and work experience in law and advocacy. We feel that their unique scholarly background and warmth are ideally suited for a place like Cornell with its very capable student body on an Ivy League campus.”

The Leibs are taking the JLIC program over from Rabbi Meir and Leah Klein, who served as the JLIC educators at Cornell the last academic year. Chana explained, “Since much of the work Jason and I do is based on personal relationships, the relationships the Kleins built with the students aren’t just ‘passed on’ from them to us. We have a lot of work to do with forming those relationships and building them.”

She continued, “Jason and I are interested in doing educational work that really makes a difference to the students we encounter and that will impact the world as well.”

To contact the couple, e-mail or