Ariel Libhaber

Ariel Libhaber

"We are knee-deep in each other's lives, for better or worse.... This is all based on the notion of Jewish Peoplehood, that we should be part of and play a role in each other's lives and do some good for this world."

Short Bio

Ariel did undergraduate studies at Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina and graduated with a BA Honours and MA in Sociology from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. After graduating, he worked in South Africa on access to public higher education.

In 2005 he emigrated to the United States, settling in Boston, and took work at Harvard University. He soon moved to the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University as research associate, and while a student in the Hornstein Program, worked part-time for the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. Ariel chose the Hornstein Program's MA/MBA track offered in partnership with The Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Following graduation, Ariel began work at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP). He is now Director of CJP's Boston-Haifa Connection. 

Ariel's Professional Network

Visit the websites of the Jewish organizations mentioned in Ariel's profile:

Profs. Susan Shevitz and Leonard Saxe were Ariel's advisors.

Hornstein Alumni Profile

Ariel Libhaber
on His Jewish Journey
  Doing it All, 
 & Keeping it Real 

My work is aligned “with my life journey and Jewish journey. World Jewry is in my DNA,” says Ariel Libhaber MA/MBA’08. Born in Argentina, raised and educated there and in Israel and South Africa, Ariel emigrated to the United States in 2005. He settled in Boston, attracted by its multiculturalism, old-world charm, and world-class institutions.

Trained as a sociologist, he found work at the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University where he learned about and was invited to join the Hornstein Program.

This was a turning point for Ariel. Equipped with an expanding and “empowering set of tools and insight” into the Jewish world of nonprofits, he did his fieldwork at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Great Boston (CJP) where he began testing and applying his new knowledge. His focus was on a strategic plan for their Israel and Overseas programs and Boston-Haifa Connection. After he graduated, CJP hired him to keep working on the project.

Today Ariel is Director of CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection. “The exciting thing with the work at Boston-Haifa is that I was able to be a part of it from planning to implementation, oversight, and growth,” says Ariel. He’s seen projects from brainstorming stages through to implementation through to meeting the people for whom the projects were designed to serve. “It's very rewarding and I'm lucky to have been a part of it and to see it continue to thrive and grow.” 

“We are in the people business,” says Ariel. “At the core of what we do is a deep commitment to each other and the Jewish people. We truly care about our future and know that we are stronger together than apart.” 

In His Own Words:
  An Interview with Ariel Libhaber

Q: What's your background, Ariel?

ARIEL: I was born in Argentina and lived as a child in both Israel and South Africa. Most of my schooling I did in Argentina where I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, including half of my college years before I moved with my family back to South Africa. I finished my studies and graduate work in Sociology in South Africa, where I continued to work in the field of higher education policy. I did a lot of work in South Africa on access to public higher education before coming to Boston in 2005. 

When I first arrived in Boston, I worked at Harvard, did some consulting, but soon took a job as research associate at the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University. While there I learned about the Hornstein Program and was invited to apply. I also continued to work part-time for the Cohen Center. 

The way I got to CJP was through my Hornstein fieldwork. I worked on the strategic plan for the Israel and Overseas Areas and after graduation I was hired by CJP to implement many of the recommendations that my group came up with, which included the Boston-Haifa Connection. 

Q: While you were doing this work to propose new strategies for Boston-Haifa Connection, did you ever think you’d see them realized to this extent? 

ARIEL: No, I didn’t think I was going to be part of it necessarily. You know when you're doing an internship that it has a beginning and an end. The exciting thing with the work at Boston-Haifa is that I was able to be a part of it from planning to implementation, oversight, and growth. That's very exciting as a sociologist, and as a manager. We rarely have the chance to see these high-level, high-impact, multi-year programs through to fruition because they take so long. Now that all these programs are a reality creating tangible impact, we get to meet so many people that are benefiting from them. It's very rewarding and I'm lucky to be a part of, to see them continue to thrive and grow, and for our unique models to be replicated at a national level across Israel, now with the recognition and support from the government.    

Q: How did the Boston-Haifa Connection get its start? Why Haifa? 

ARIEL: It started in an organic way, basically between business acquaintances and colleagues from Haifa and from Boston that in the late eighties saw the need for economic development opportunities for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. From there the partnership grew exponentially and organically to other areas, to programs in leadership, social services, education, culture, and it became slowly but surely a very robust program that now involves hundreds of volunteers, experts, and professionals on both sides of the ocean. 

Now we have multiple programs that serve children, students, schools, and large-scale programs in partnership with the municipality and other NGOs where we integrate social services for at-risk populations.  

The Boston-Haifa Connection partnership has grown and developed over the last twenty-seven years. Thousands of people have participated at the volunteer level or other participant level. Thousands more benefit from the programs every year. It's a large endeavor that takes a lot of work and a large network of stakeholders. 

People and relationships are the core of Boston-Haifa Connection and what makes the program so special. It's the people-to-people relationships between Bostonians and Haifaim, between Jews in Israel and in the US. 

These relationships are something we treasure and don't take for granted. They develop at every level, between the professionals, volunteers, participants and peers. We work together and understand that we’re stronger together than apart. In the process of working together to achieve our goals, we get to know each other in a deeper, more meaningful way: how we live in in each community, how we think, what we have in common, what sets us apart. These networks of personal relationships are the real magic of this partnership. 

Boston and Haifa are not just sister cities on paper. It's much more than that. A lot of our volunteers join us in Israel and travel with us. Hundreds of people fly each way in order to help us develop and implement our programs every year. 

What’s so special about this is the sense of ownership everyone feels. We come together as a collective group to achieve a collective goal, to improve Jewish lives and the communities in which we live. Our volunteers give us their time, they provide much needed financial support, but most importantly, they give freely of their skills, their commitment, and dedication. We cannot function without this. 

Q: You mentioned a collective goal. Is that goal connected to World Jewry or would you describe it some other way?   

ARIEL: Oh, absolutely. The people who are involved in this are people who are committed to World Jewry, who are committed to the Jewish People, and who have a special commitment to Israel. It's not so much about an ideology as it's about this idea that we're part of the same family. 

A commitment to the Jewish People involves a deep level of involvement. Our model is to get to know each other authentically. We are knee-deep in each other's lives, for better or worse. Sometimes that's very challenging. We have different ways of seeing the world, we have different styles of how we work, language, time zone, culture can be barriers. Despite these challenges we make the committed effort to come together, to wrestle with issues and try to address challenges in our societies. This is all based on the notion of Jewish Peoplehood, that we should be part of and play a role in each other's lives and do some good for this world. 

Certainly, tikkun olam, the idea of Peoplehood and being part of the Jewish People, the centrality of Israel in the lives of American Jews, permeate what we do. Israeli Jews are eager to learn about life for American Jews and how we live Jewishly. They have a thirst to explore Jewish identity in more nuanced ways beyond the dichotomy of either being “ultra-religious or ultra-secular.” When they come here they learn that there's Jewish pluralism and choice, that you can identify Jewishly and express your Jewishness in any number of ways and live a rich, engaged, and meaningful Jewish life. 

Every time we bring Israelis to Boston they spend quality time with us. They visit our schools and as many of our synagogues as possible to experience our diversity of practice. They see that there’s not just one version of living Jewishly here in America. They see how we congregate, they visit JCCs and innovative places like Maayim Haayim. They see firsthand the richness of choices we have available.  

This idea of belonging, of World Jewry, and of being intertwined in each other’s destiny is something that becomes very real as we do this work and get to know each other. Our programs are a vehicle for that exploration to happen, for those relationships to become real, often times lasting lifetimes.  

Q:  I believe CJP has another sister city in a Former Soviet Union country. Can you tell me about that? 

ARIEL: Yes, CJP has a sister city relationship with the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk. It’s another great example of our community’s commitment to World Jewry. There are many exciting programs there as well, although a greater emphasis is placed on supporting basic needs as well as encouraging Jewish renewal. 

Q: Pew reports that there’s a shrinking “middle” in American Jewish society with fewer Jews identifying as Jewish. How do you think this affects or will affect World Jewry? 

ARIEL: Well, as Professor Sarna says, the Jewish People often seem under threat and on the verge of extinction. And yet, young Jews are active and engaged in many Jewish activities and Jewish communities are thriving. The new reality is that there’s much more variety and diversity in how Jews express their Judaism and live their Jewish lives. They're always seeking meaning and trying to identify in particular ways and sure, that many times competes with non-Jewish identity, national identity, and plenty other identities that also form who we are as individuals. At CJP, we try to address that by offering engaging opportunities to meet and multiple avenues to particpate, to explore the beauty of Judaism, that will inspire, appeal, and ring true. 

I don't think things are that dire or extreme, unless we just sit around and do nothing. But as long as there are innovative and committed institutions that are dedicated to providing and supporting opportunities for a rich Jewish life then there is something in Jewish life for everybody. 

Q:  Speaking of the future, and with the knowledge we have about the challenges facing World Jewry, in what position will the Jewish people be in 25, 50, and 100 years from now? 

ARIEL: It's hard to tell, but I'm an optimist in that regard. I mean if history has shown us one thing, it’s that the Jewish people overcome adversity, persevere, and still manage to build strong Jewish communities wherever we are, even in the lowest moments of our history. 

These are qualities and capabilities we carry with us. If we’re able to witness Jewish communities flourish yet again after the Holocaust, if we’re able to see a strong and thriving Israel, if we continue to come together in times of need, and if we continue to study, grow, and adapt, that means to me that we have a bright future ahead in spite of all of the challenges we face. 

Sure, we watch the news and read the research and data that raises red flags, but in light of those things we don't just sit around and kvetch. We move on and try to address issues and overcome them. 

In 25, 50, or 100 years, I envision a growing and flourishing Jewish community worldwide and a strong, independent Jewish Israel. We have a collective responsibility to our People to keep on living, to transmit our heritage to our children and to other generations, and continue this beautiful journey. 

Q: It sounds to me like your job is very demanding. How do you balance work and personal life and do you ever struggle with burnout? 

ARIEL: The work is very intense. We have multiple goals we need to reach. At the same time, we're in the people business. We need to facilitate tough conversations and try to get people together who are very different. We need to get groups of volunteers, professionals, educators, municipal professionals and entities, NGOs, government officials, the private sector all together on teams that will lead to effective relationship-building and goals accomplishment. 

So yes, it is demanding. There are a lot of logistics and I do feel burnt out at times. But it's very dynamic work and it's never boring. It's challenging but at the same time it's very rewarding. When you are able to be part of work that's engaging, when you're meeting fascinating people all the time, when you're constantly learning from their experiences, their stories, their skills, it's really special. 

We have two levels of work in Boston-Haifa: crazy and insane. We relax a little bit when things are just plain crazy! 

But you know, there are so many perks. We get to travel and we get to host people from other countries. It's not just routine office work and budgets. The routine is that there is no routine. 

This work isn’t a 9-5 job for several reasons. Time differences play a role: our morning is their evening; when we're working on Friday, it’s their Shabbat. So we end up doing the work when it needs to get done. But when you see the impact of the programs and you get to meet the people that benefit from them and the people that help to make these programs a reality, and you see that your lay leaders are taking time off from their busy lives and their families to do this work with you, to travel with you and overcome challenges with you, that's inspiring. We go the extra mile because they go the extra mile. 

In the greater scheme of things the results of our work and how rewarding it is, the people we meet and the friendships and relationships we develop are so powerful that it's worth all the sacrifice. I'm really grateful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. 

Of course the other thing that's wonderful for me personally in this work is how aligned it is with my life journey and Jewish journey. World Jewry is in my DNA. I’ve lived in many places and the Jewish connection is at the heart of it with Israel playing a pivotal role. 

In addition, as a professional, as a sociologist, and from what I learned in my studies at Brandeis University, the Hornstein Program, the Heller School, this work is totally unique and appropriate for me and my skill-set. I am involved in management. I get to analyze research. I get to oversee all of the financial side of things. I get to design programs, to do strategic planning and implementation, oversight, quality control. Add to this, the work is within a Jewish institution! All of the things and skills that I was able to learn, I was immediately able to apply them. I'm being challenged all the time. I have the opportunity to combine all these skills in a dynamic way. 

Q: Did your education at Hornstein and your double degree prove to be a turning point for you in your career? Or could you have made the same achievements without it? 

ARIEL: The interesting thing from the professional side of it is that my Hornstein education provided me with an empowering set of tools and insight into a field that I wasn’t much acquainted with. As I mentioned before, I came from the education field and might have continued in that direction if it hadn't been for Hornstein. Definitely in terms of management and finance, the Heller MBA was also an empowering experience.

And of course there’s the people we met. I really enjoyed that and keep in touch with many of my classmates. Adam Kancher, Jordan Fruchtman, Adrien Uretsky Khelemskythey were all in my class. People who were second-years when we were first years, including Rosa Kramer Franck and others who are still in Boston working in other areas in the Jewish world. We bump into each other once in a while. There are plenty of Hornstein graduates at CJP. Those Hornstein relationships stay with me. 

Q: That’s the Hornstein Program’s mission, to educate young Jewish professionals for work in the Jewish community to support the Jewish People. 

ARIEL: Absolutely. It’s a field that benefits from strong professionals who are willing to dedicate their lives to a mission-driven environment. In many cases, it doesn't pay as much as other sectors but it's a calling and it can be a very rewarding journey.

I like to think of this work in terms of the teachings of Pirkei Avot: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.” 


This interview with Ariel was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, March 2016. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.