University of Chicago Hosts Prestigious Jewish Scholarship Competition 


A Jewish student from the University of Sydney won the Jewish Academic Innovation Award this weekend at the Sinai Scholars Academic Symposium at the University of Chicago.   

Benjamin Ezzes won the prestigious award for his passionate, well-researched paper on values in Jewish education, which drew on Jewish and academic sources as well as his own personal experiences. Mr. Ezzes is studying a Bachelor of Secondary Education at the University of Sydney, majoring in English and Classical Hebrew. 

His paper was chosen from the ten finalists from universities in the USA, Canada and Australia who submitted papers on topics from punk rock to animal rights, mysticism to higher math, and faith to jurisprudence. The papers combined modern academic rigor with traditional Jewish methods and approaches. 

Runner-up was Manuel Croitoru, a student from Colombia who is studying at Rice University, Texas. Mr. Croitoru wrote about the mystical significance of the minor festival, Purim Katan. 

Benjamin Ezzes’s paper was chosen as the winner by a panel of judges including NYU professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, Dr. Lawrence Schiffman; Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Laurie Zoloth; Dr. Malka Simkovich, Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies at CTU, Chicago; Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe of the Institute of American & Talmudic Law; and Dr. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Professor of Jewish Studies and History at Northwestern University. 

The finalists were drawn from the 2,300 participants in the Sinai Scholars Society from 135 universities. After attending eight classes, a field trip, a Shabbat dinner and more, the participants completed a five-page paper. These papers formed the basis for the longer, in-depth research and essay papers submitted to the symposium. 

The Sinai Scholars Society, a joint project of Chabad on Campus international and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, was founded in 2006. Many of the participants in the program had no previous Jewish education, making their achievements even more impressive. 

This years symposium took place at the University of Chicago and was hosted by Rabbi Yossi and Baila Brackman, Directors of the Rohr Chabad Center serving the University of Chicago & Hyde Park. 

“All of the submissions this year were excellent, but Benjamin Ezzes’ paper stood out,” said Rabbi Dubi Rabinowitz, Director of the Sinai Scholars Society. “Benjamin raises questions that we found challenging, and we’re excited that he plans to put his ideas into practice as a Jewish educator.”  

Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus International, said: “Sinai Scholars gives Jewish students from all backgrounds a chance to engage intellectually and find their own Jewish answers to the difficult questions that college life and independence can present. The connections forged between Sinai Scholars participants and the insights the program provides into their Jewish identity can last a lifetime.”