Following in the footsteps of Donna Levine, who retired this summer after more than 20 years at Stephen Wise, is going to be a tough act, but Isaiah Benedek is excited to be joining our community as director of membership engagement — with Heidi Goldenberg taking over as special projects manager.
Born and raised in Jewish household in Brooklyn, Isaiah spent a lot of time with his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. After his bar mitzvah at the Union Temple of Brooklyn, a Reform synagogue in Prospect Heights, Isaiah fell off the derech until a post-college Birthright trip brought him to Israel. “I’ve always been proud to be Jewish,” he says, but the revelation that his grandparents fasted in the camps on Yom Kippur brought “a newfound appreciation for our resilience and peoplehood” — and he makes a point of continuing that tradition.
Soon after graduating from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s in political science, Isaiah landed at the International School of Brooklyn, where he helped launch the institution’s first capital campaign and moved with them into a bigger, state-of-the art building. As a development associate at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, Isaiah cultivated principal giving to support cancer research and innovation, before he took his talents to a prominent charter school network.
“My parents always told me to do what I could to make the world a better place, so I’ve always found it important for my work to have meaning beyond a paycheck,” Isaiah explains. “I want to be working towards something that’s bigger than me, to be part of a community that’s trying to make the world a better place for everyone.”
Now, Isaiah brings more than a decade of nonprofit experience to Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Asked what he’s looking forward to the most, Isaiah says: “Here’s a place with such a rich history in the progressive Jewish movement making a real change in the community. I’m excited to join this diverse congregation of people from all walks of life — and do my part to ensure that Stephen Wise remains a vibrant and welcoming Jewish home many years to come.”