hillel
Photo: File Photo / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, honored Penn Rabbi Mike Uram with one of its top awards.

Uram, executive director and campus rabbi of Penn Hillel, received the Edgar M. Bronfman Award at the annual Hillel International Gala on June 5 in New York City.

The award aims to recognize “a Hillel professional who has served the movement with distinction and honor,” according to the Hillel International website.

Uram is the fourth person to receive the annual award, following three recipients whom he described as “legends of Hillel”: Rhoda Weisman, the co-founder and former director of the Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps; Michael Brooks, the former executive director of University of Michigan Hillel; and Jeffrey Summit, the executive director of Tufts University Hillel.

Uram said he was surprised to receive the award in light of the achievements of previous honorees.

“I feel like I’m too early in my career to get an award like this,” he said, “but I’m very touched and excited about it.”

Uram, however, is no stranger to national recognition within the Jewish community.

The Jewish Daily Forward named him one of the country’s top 50 Jewish leaders in 2012 in recognition of his response to the national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference, which was held at Penn that year. Last year, he received the National Jewish Book Award for his publication “Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations.”

The namesake of the award, late billionaire Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr., was president of the alcoholic beverage company Seagrams and president of the World Jewish Congress. As president of the World Jewish Congress, Bronfman is best known for his work toward legitimizing the Hebrew language in Russia and helping Soviet Jews escape to Israel.

Hillel International granted the first Edgar M. Bronfman Award in 2014, the year after Bronfman’s death. Rabbi Uram described Bronfman as “one of the great Jewish leaders and philanthropists of the 20th century.”

Uram emphasized that the award recognized not only his work but also that of others in the Penn Hillel community.

“I think that the award is really a testament to the incredible work that students do,” he said, “and to the whole Hillel team at Penn and to all the incredible alumni and parents who fund Penn Hillel.”

He also described what he sees as Penn Hillel’s role in fostering ideas to engage the “next generation of Jews.”

“We’ve been trailblazers in bringing Jewish life out of the Hillel building and into the dorms and off-campus houses where students live,” he said, “and transforming Hillel from the Jewish club on campus to the incubator of Jewish life that takes place in every corner of campus, not just in the Hillel building.”

Uram emphasized the need to “minimize the boundaries to involvement” in Jewish life.

“You should be able to access Jewish life without leaving your normal life, wherever you are,” he said. “That’s the secret in Penn Hillel’s success.”

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.