Bennett Center for Judaic Studies

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Bennett Center For Judaic Studies

The Bennett Center for Judaic Studies was founded in 1994 with an initial endowment from Carl and Dorothy Bennett of Greenwich, Connecticut. Its goal is to enrich the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life of Fairfield University through lectures, programs, and other special events; enhancement of the university library's Judaic collection; monthly Shabbat services and dinners (co-sponsored with the Campus Ministry), and ongoing support of the College of Arts and Sciences' undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Judaic Studies. Bennett Center events are open to the University and greater Bridgeport/Fairfield communities.

Since its inception, 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 the Director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies. The Center has received support from numerous individuals and foundations, including the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Foundation, the Adoph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation, the Samuel and Bettie Roberts Endowment in Jewish Art, David and Edith Chaifetz, and the Frank Jacoby Foundation. Through these gifts, the Bennett Center has brought many world-renowned lecturers to the University, including former NBC News journalist and Tel Aviv Bureau Chief Martin Fletcher; author Elie Wiesel; Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service; rabbi and author Lawrence Kushner; American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna; and painter, sculptor, and photorealist Audrey Flack.

Particularly successful has been Ellen Umansky’s Lunch and Learn series, an annual eight-week course that attracts up to 50 participants from the greater Fairfield/Bridgeport communities. The series tackles academically challenging themes, such as Movers and Shakers: Men and Women Who Made a Difference in American Jewish Life; Textually Speaking: 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 and an annual service in remembrance of the Holocaust, Hebrew workshops open to the university community, and its comprehensive resources and outreach programs, the Carl and Dorothy 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 undergraduate Jewish cultural organization, headed by President Dimitri Skuret and Vice President Brooke Imbornone. Dr. Ellen Umansky serves as the group's faculty advisor.

Friday evening Kabbalat services and Shabbat dinners take place three times a semester for faculty, staff, students, and their guests.

The Fairfield University campus community met in a sukkah for lunch, classes and reflection during the Jewish fall festival. Click the photo to see us on TV!


Jennifer Haynos

Program Manager

(203) 254-4000 ext. 2065

Advisory Board

Robin Kanarek

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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. Her 99-year-old father, Carl, lives in Greenwich and will be kept abreast of the activities made at the Judaic Studies program and hopes to attend upcoming events.

Patricia Behre

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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

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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.

Shelley Kreiger

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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

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MARISSA LISCHINSKY, originally from Beverly, MA, is currently the Associate Director of Student Engagement for Transition and Retention at Fairfield University. Marissa earned her B.A. from Fairfield University (2012) and her M.Ed. 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.

Janet Plotkin

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Since 1997 JANET PLOTKIN and her husband Fred, have actively supported the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies through the Adolf and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation, a foundation of which Janet currently serves as President. Among the Bennett Center programs that the foundation supports is the annual Schnurmacher Lecture in Judaic Studies. Janet has been active in various community activities for many years. She served as Chairwoman of the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Westport, CT. She also served as a member of the Board of the Westport Country Playhouse and was president/director of the CT Theatre Foundation.

Jim Prosnit

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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.

Barbara Salop

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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.

David Zieff

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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.

Ellen Umansky

Founding Director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies
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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.

Karen Guckert Kaiser

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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 B.S. in Marketing from Fairfield University.

Jennifer Haynos

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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 is currently enrolled in the Master of Public Administration Program at Fairfield University. 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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