Libenu’s Legacy Learning Program
“The learning is great,” says Michel Lis, a client of the Jean Morgenstern Libenu Home and one of JUF’s 36-Under-36. Michel is talking about Libenu’s new Dr. Joel and Mrs. Peshie Dennis, z”l, Jewish Learning Program, which was created by his extended family in memory of his grandparents. “My Grandma and Zaide were great people. I loved them very much, and they are smiling down from Gan Eden because they still love me.”
Thanks to the Dennis family’s generous sponsorship, Libenu clients now have twice-monthly study sessions about parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion) or upcoming holidays. Rabbi Joe Ozarowski, of the JCFS Chaplains, alternates with Steve Erenberg in leading the classes.
“The teachers introduce a concept and have the participants relate it to their own lives,” explains Dr. Erenberg. “Their answers have been so beautifully surprising to me. They’re really passionate and knowledgeable, and this gives them a chance to show their strengths.”
For many Libenu clients, like Michel, being Jewish is a unique joy. Engaging in Torah topics enables them to shine.
“They’re very spiritually connected to Judaism,” explains Libenu’s CEO, Dr. Shana Erenberg. “This learning nurtures a side of them that may be as important as other skills. The depth of their connectedness never ceases to amaze me.”
Dr. and Mrs. Dennis, z”l, were visionaries and community builders who were instrumental in establishing a Jewish day school as well as a synagogue. Mrs. Dennis told their daughter, Dr. Susie Lis, that she was thrilled to see Michel living in a place where he was so comfortable, happy, and thriving.
“This learning program is exactly the kind of thing they would have wanted to sponsor,” Susie comments. “My parents had the most generous and big hearts of anyone I know, and supporting Libenu – which means, ‘our hearts’ – and our inclusive community would also be symbolic of their biggest priorities. They were so proud of Michel and so proud of Libenu. Bringing Michel, Jewish learning, and Libenu together would be extremely meaningful to them.
“Since its inception, Libenu has held a special place in my parents’ hearts,” Michel’s uncle, Steve Dennis, adds. “They thought its mission was critical and that it provided a wonderful environment for Michel. Given the emphasis they placed on Jewish learning, I know that my parents would have derived enormous pride by recognizing Libenu in this manner.”
“The Dennises were wonderful, supportive grandparents,” Dr. Erenberg reflects, “and this feels like an extension of their strong beliefs. They always saw Michel’s potential and worked to foster it – which is at the core of what Libenu works to do with each of our clients and respite participants.”
Before the pandemic, volunteers taught monthly Jewish classes for clients. Thanks to the generosity of the Dennis family, Jewish learning will be more frequent and will be taught by professionals. The sessions will be open to community members as well, when it is deemed safe to do so.
“All the learning they’ve had until now has been so wonderful and positive,” Susie notes, “especially when more than one Libenu home gets together. We’re happy that the program will be more robust now, and it will be even more meaningful when it’s dedicated for an occasion.”
As before, individuals and families will be able to sponsor sessions in honor of special occasions, to wish someone a refuah sheleimah (speedy recovery), or to commemorate a yahrzeit.
To sponsor a session or to learn about leaving a legacy with Libenu, contact Lisette Zaid at Lisette@libenu.org or (847) 213-0514.