Bennett Center for Judaic Studies

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Bennett Center For Judaic Studies

Bennett Center for Judaic Studies

The Bennett Center for Judaic Studies is an academic center that strives to enrich the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual dialogue of Fairfield University. Continuing the vision of Carl and Dorothy Bennett, the Center offers continued learning experiences and greater campus-wide awareness of Jewish history, ethical values, and religious observance. It also seeks to engage the Greater Fairfield communities through lectures and annual programs. The Bennett Center works in collaboration with the undergraduate interdisciplinary Judaic Studies program, the Center for Catholic Studies, Campus Ministry, local Jewish community organizations, and other partnering centers and offices.

Since the Bennett Center’s inception in September, 1994, through an endowment by Carl and Dorothy Bennett to Fairfield University, Dr. Ellen M. Umansky has served as both the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies (a faculty position within the university's Department of Religious Studies) and Director of the Bennett Center. The Center receives financial support from numerous individuals and foundations, including the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Foundation, the Adoph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation, Larry Roberts and Suzanne Novik, Andrew and Robert Feigenson and family, David and Edith Chaifetz, and the Frank Jacoby Foundation maintained by Debby and David Zieff. Through these gifts, the Bennett Center has brought many world-renowned lecturers to the University, including Pulitzer Prize finalist in fiction, Nathan Englander; The New York Times Op-Ed columnist and author, Tom Friedman; Rabbi and theologian Yitz Greenberg; lawyer and activist Khizr Khan; American diplomat and author Dennis Ross; American Jewish historian, Jonathan Sarna; former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro; Meet the Press moderator, Chuck Todd; painter, sculptor, and photorealist, Audrey Flack; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and author, Elie Wiesel.

Particularly successful has been Ellen Umansky’s Lunch and Learn series, an annual eight-week course that attracts up to 50 adult participants from the greater Fairfield/Bridgeport communities. The series tackles academically challenging themes, such as Ethical Questions, Jewish Responses; Jewish-Christian Relations; Modern Jewish Perspectives on Judaism and Jewish Self-Identity; and Jewish Concepts of the Sacred.

From the establishment and retention of the Chair in Judaic Studies to monthly Shabbat services, an annual service in remembrance of the Holocaust, workshops open to the university community, and its comprehensive resources and outreach programs, the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies has established a permanent and growing reputation in the Fairfield County community - reaching out to its 70,000 Jewish residents and neighbors effectively and prolifically - as well as to many others. Through the Center, Fairfield University continues to be committed to building a bridge of understanding between the Jewish and Jesuit traditions.

KADIMA is Fairfield University's Jewish undergraduate club, under the guidance of Fairfield University’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Jim Prosnit, and club advisor Marissa Lischinsky ’12, associate director of Student Engagement. Among the special events it held during the 2019-2020 academic year, were a Chanukah party (with dreidels and latkes) in December and a Purim celebration in early March, before the Covid-19 virus curtailed all activities on campus. Although on-campus monthly Shabbat services and dinners were replaced with Zoom services, well attended by faculty, students and their families through June, virtual conversations, and new ideas for the 2020-2021 academic year were formulated. All who were involved in KADIMA during the past academic year, are hopeful for "in person" connections this fall.


Jennifer Haynos

Program Manager

(203) 254-4000 ext. 2065

Advisory Board

Robin Kanarek headshot

Robin Kanarek

About Robin Kanarek
ROBIN KANAREK is the daughter of Dorothy and Carl Bennett and has been active at Fairfield University for the past twenty years. An R.N. who continued her nursing education at Fairfield University’s School of Nursing, she graduated in 1996 as an adult learner. Robin served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 2013-2019 and currently serves as Chair of the university’s Kanarek Center for Palliative Care. She also serves as a member of the Nursing Advisory Board for the university’s Egan School of Nursing. Robin, along with her older brother, Marc, is honored to have been chosen to chair the newly established Bennett Center for Judaic Studies Advisory Board. She hopes to continue the legacy that her parents established in 1994.
Patricia Behre headshot

Patricia Behre

About Patricia Behre
PATRICIA BEHRE Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of History and current Chair of the History Department at Fairfield University. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale University, and has taught on the Fairfield faculty since 1991. She was a member of the original faculty delegation advocating for a full-time faculty line in Judaic Studies before the establishment of the Bennett Chair. She specializes in early modern European History, particularly Jewish-Christian relations, and has published books and articles in that field. She regularly teaches in the Judaic Studies program, including a course on the history of Antisemitism. Dr. Behre lives in Guilford, CT with her husband, and has one daughter and three stepchildren.
Marc Bennett headshot

Marc Bennett

About Marc Bennett
MARC BENNETT recently retired from a career in commercial real estate. He was a partner in a family real estate venture (DorCal Associates) which owned shopping centers in Fairfield County, and also became a commercial real estate broker and appraiser with Kaye Cahalan in Bridgeport and Austin McGuire Company in Norwalk. Marc currently serves as a trustee at Temple Sinai in Stamford where he is also a Brotherhood president. He coordinates Temple Sinai’s food pantry volunteers at New Covenant Center, which is part of Catholic Charities in Stamford, and serves on the Board of Directors of Stamford Academy, a charter high school in Stamford. Marc’s parents, Carl and Dorothy Bennett, are founders of the Bennett Center. Marc has supported their endowment to Fairfield University by being a donor and lecture attendee.
Doug Karp headshot

Doug Karp

About Doug Karp

DOUG KARP is the managing partner of Pacific Partners, a private equity and advisory firm focused on healthcare innovation. His professional background includes founding Tailwind Capital, serving as a member of Operating Committee of Warburg, Pincus and as managing director of Salomon Brothers. He is a founding director of Horizons National (educational opportunity), served as chair of Morningside Nursing Home (Bronx, NY) and as a director of the City Parks Foundation.

Shelley Kreiger headshot

Shelley Kreiger

About Shelley Kreiger
SHELLEY KREIGER is delighted to join the Bennett Center Advisory Committee. Shelley has been involved with the Center since its inception both as a participant in its many programs and as an active member of the local synagogue and Federation community. Shelley is a professional Jewish educator who currently serves as Head of School of Merkaz, the Community High School for Judaic Studies in Bridgeport. A frequent attendee at Bennett Center programs, she has been a long-time adult learner in Ellen Umansky’s “Lunch and Learn” class, an 8-week course co-sponsored by the Bennett Center and the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County.
Marissa Lischinsky headshot

Marissa Lischinsky

About Marissa Lischinsky
MARISSA LISCHINSKY, originally from Beverly, MA, is currently the Associate Director of Student Engagement for Transition and Retention at Fairfield University. Marissa earned her BA from Fairfield University (2012) and her MEd from Springfield College in Massachusetts (2014). While a student at Fairfield, Marissa minored in Judaic Studies, was an active member of Kadima, the student organization focused on educating about and promoting Jewish culture, and was part of the first on-campus monthly Shabbat services. Marissa credits Dr. Umansky and the Bennett Center for helping make her feel at home as a Jewish student at a Jesuit University. Since returning to Fairfield in November 2018 after being away for 6.5 years, Marissa has enjoyed re-joining the Fairfield University Jewish community and attending Bennett Center events.
Jim Prosnit headshot

Jim Prosnit

About Jim Prosnit
JIM PROSNIT has been an adjunct faculty member in Fairfield University’s Religious Studies Department since the early 1990’s. Initially teaching a class entitled “History of the Jewish Experience,” he currently teaches “Jewish Interpretations of Scripture” and, beginning in the fall of 2019, a new Hebrew Bible course on “Priests, Prophets, Psalmists, and Kings.” Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, he became Fairfield University’s first Jewish Chaplain, in September 2018. One of Jim’s goals is to facilitate group programs affording students opportunities to engage with one another. He is developing special programs to help revitalize KADIMA, the Jewish undergraduate club on campus, and plans to speak in classes, organize holiday celebrations such as last year’s Hanukkah Celebration and Passover Seder, and lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on campus.
Sheila L. Romanowitz headshot

Sheila L. Romanowitz

About Sheila Romanowitz

Sheila L. Romanowitz has worked in Jewish communal service for much of her adult life. She served as Executive Director, Office of the President and Chair of the Board at UJA-Federation of New York; COO at UJA Federation of Greenwich; and Executive Director of the United Jewish Federation of Stamford. For her work in promoting interdenominational understanding and communication, she was honored with the Young Israel of Stamford's Community Service Award and received recognition from a uniquely pluralistic Board of Rabbis. Together with her late husband, Dr. Harry S. Romanowitz, she received the Daniel R. Ginsburg Humanitarian Award from the ADL and the Heritage Award from the Jewish Historical Society. A resident of Connecticut for the past 45 years, she currently serves on the Board of SilverSource, a leading resource for older adults.

Barbara Salop headshot

Barbara Salop

About Barbara Salop
BARBARA SALOP is a management consultant specializing in Organization Transformation. She has played many roles in her years at IBM helping leaders to meet the challenges of change. Barbara is currently actively applying her expertise in the Not-For-Profit sector, including serving as Marketing VP member on the board for Jewish Family Services of Greenwich. Barbara is a Fairfield alumna (’75) who has extended the foundation of her Jesuit education to embrace pursuit of Jewish wisdom, tradition, and culture, making the Bennett Center her home for all three. She looks forward to helping the Center continue to grow and thrive.
Ellen Umansky headshot

Ellen Umansky

Founding Director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies
About Ellen Umansky
ELLEN UMANSKY helped create the Bennett Center and the undergraduate Judaic Studies Program at Fairfield University in 1994. As the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies, she is also a full-time Professor of Religious Studies. She also serves as an associate faculty member of the university's American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies Programs. Ellen received her B.A. in Philosophy from Wellesley College, her Master of Arts in Religion from Yale University, and her Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University. Before coming to Fairfield, she was a tenured Associate Professor of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, visiting Professor of Religion at Haverford College, and visiting Lecturer at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Her scholarly work focuses on Anglo-Jewish and American Jewish history and religious thought and on Jewish women's spirituality more generally.
Peter Willner headshot

Peter Willner

About Peter Willner

Peter Willner, EdD

Peter Willner has devoted his professional career to serving as an advocate for education, civil rights, and philanthropy. He was founding Executive Director of Cooperative Educational Services (CES), a public-school Regional Education Service Center in Fairfield County, and in 1987 transitioned his career to join UJA-Federation of New York as its Executive Director for Organization & Development. In 1991, he became the Anti-Defamation League’s chief operating officer responsible for overseeing its administrative and all fundraising operations. Most recently, until his retirement, Peter served as the National Executive Director and CEO for the American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU). Today, he manages JANID Advisors, a boutique consulting firm specializing in non-profit management and fundraising. He is a member of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a Trustee of the Town of Fairfield Library, on the Congregation Beth El Board and a member of the National Executive Service Corps Board of Directors.

David Zieff headshot

David Zieff

About David Zieff
DAVID ZIEFF, a partner at the certified public accounting firm of CironeFriedberg, in Shelton, Connecticut, first became involved with the work of the Bennett Center and of Fairfield University through the Frank Jacoby Foundation of Bridgeport, of which he currently serves as President. For over fifteen years, David has guided the Foundation in its support of the annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lecture at Fairfield University, co-sponsored by the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and the OpenVISIONS Forum. As he got to know Ellen Umansky, he became impressed with the programs offered by the Bennett Center and the willingness of the university to support its endeavors. David and his wife, Debby, are regular attendees at Bennett Center events and have been adult learners in Ellen’s “Lunch and Learn” class, co-sponsored with the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County.


Karen Guckert Kaiser

About Karen Guckert Kaiser
KAREN GUCKERT KAISER, a Fairfield resident, is an accomplished strategic planner with extensive experience working with boards of directors, boards of trustees, academic faculty and senior executive management. She has a proven performance record in research and analysis of all facets of marketing, finance and fundraising. Ms. Kaiser is the Senior Director of Development for the College of Arts & Sciences at Fairfield University. Prior to her current position she served as the Director of Economic Development for the Town of Stratford, CT. She currently serves on the Town of Fairfield’s Strategic Planning Commission. She previously served as a Board Member and Secretary of the Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival; a member of Al’s Angels, Board Member in Westport; The Alexander Tognino Foundation, Trustee in Westchester; and the Center for Women & Families in Bridgeport. Ms. Kaiser received her BS in Marketing from Fairfield University.

Jennifer Haynos

About Jennifer Haynos
JENNIFER HAYNOS serves as the Program Manager for the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, a position she has held since January 2018. Prior to working at the Bennett Center, she was the Religious School Director at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, Connecticut. She received a Master of Arts in Public Administration from Fairfield University (2021). Jennifer and her family live in Ridgefield, Connecticut.


Support the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and make a gift that helps us continue to enrich the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life of Fairfield University through lectures, programs, monthly Shabbat services and dinners, and ongoing support of the College of Arts and Sciences' undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Judaic Studies.

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