A Home Away from Home
Barry H. P’12 and Sindy L. Liben P’12 and
John M. P’96 and Barbara S. Heffer P’96
Pledge Leadership Naming Gifts
to Hillel House Project
February 26, 2009
Rebecca Liben ’12 and Alison Heffer ’96 have more than 15 years between them, yet their Muhlenberg experiences share a common thread: Muhlenberg College Hillel. Both think of Hillel as “a home away from home” and Patti Mittleman, Jewish chaplain and director of Hillel, as a surrogate mother to all who enter Hillel House.
Though Becca Liben is still just a first-year student and Ali Heffer has been out of college for more than a decade, it is a testament to how strong their bonds are to Jewish life at Muhlenberg that both of their parents recently made six-figure gifts to the Hillel expansion and renovation project, naming key spaces in what essentially will be the new Hillel House.
John and Barbara Heffer have made a pledge to name the director’s office. Barry and Sindy Liben have pledged to name the new lobby of Hillel, which will be called the Liben Lobby. “My family likes the alliteration,” jokes Becca.
Becca, who is from Livingston, N.J., looked at 15 schools, though she knew Muhlenberg (the second school she visited) was the place for her. “I went to a small Jewish day school and wanted a place where the professors would know if I wasn’t there,” she says. “Obviously, Judaism was a part of my school experience from an early age, but I didn’t know how important it would be for me in College. One of my high school teachers was Patti Mittleman’s mentor so I already had a connection. When I got to Muhlenberg, I just fell in love with Patti and Hillel.”
Becca’s plan is to pursue a major in psychology and minors in Jewish studies and sociology. Even though she’s still a first-year student, Becca has already committed to being a Hillel volunteer and frequently goes beyond her set hours to work there or just hang out. “Hillel is very much a home at Muhlenberg. I would rather be involved in one thing in a big way than 10 things in a small way.” Becca is so passionate about Hillel and the project to build a larger space that she recently was asked to give a presentation to Muhlenberg’s Board of Trustees.
“My first Shabbat I ate outside,” she says. “My second Shabbat I ate in the hallway. When you go to Hillel, so many people are involved, but there is no room. I saw a list of things that the new Hillel House needs on the website and talked with my father. I knew we needed a big boost. My dad met with President Helm and Patti and decided to name the lobby area of the new House.”
“I made the gift for two reasons,” says Barry Liben. “First, I believe very strongly in supporting anything that is important to my children, and Becca has made it clear that Muhlenberg and Hillel are extremely important to her. She just soaks it all in – she loves Muhlenberg. Second, my family has deep Jewish roots and I have always been involved in doing Jewish work. A working, effective Hillel like the one at Muhlenberg is exceptional. It just doesn’t exist at other schools.
“But the bottom line is: Rebecca believes in it, therefore I have to support it.” One of Becca’s favorite Hillel activities is Oneg-Shabbat – telling stories and singing songs after dinner. “It’s so important to my parents that this place is on campus,” she continues. “It’s so important to me to never separate people or say they can’t come – whether people are Jewish or not. We just want people to feel at home there.”
Becca says she looks forward to staying involved with Muhlenberg College Hillel in years to come. “When I come back with my kids, they’ll say to me, ‘Mom, that’s the lobby that Grandpa and Grandma built. This is where you worked.’ That will be a very special moment."
Ali Heffer, of Chappaqua, N.Y., was sure she was going to Ithaca College after high school. Then her guidance counselor suggested she visit Muhlenberg. “I went to a Muhlenberg Open House and fell in love,” she says. “Everyone said hello – everyone! I had a fabulous interview and got accepted.”
At freshman orientation, Ali attended a Bagel Brunch, one of Hillel’s most popular activities. “It was such an open, warm environment,” she says. “Patti became a second mother to me.”
Ali was diagnosed with a learning disability at Muhlenberg, but it didn’t slow her down or keep her from achieving her dream. Through help from the Academic Resource Center she was able to pull her GPA up from a 1.8 to a 3.4. While a student, she was heavily involved in Hillel both serving on the board and volunteering for things like doing the shopping for Shabbat Dinners and Bagel Brunches. Because of her service and leadership in Hillel, she was a recipient of the Morton and Myra Levy Leadership Award. A stipulation of the award is that students give back, so Ali taught at the JCC in her spare time. She also babysat for Patti’s sons, Ari and Joel.
Ali graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology and now works as a child life specialist with the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City. She also continues to serve Hillel as a current member of the Advisory Board.
In the years since her graduation, her parents have made gifts in support of the Academic Resource Center, The Muhlenberg Fund and Hillel. They also named The John and Barbara Heffer Health Center of the Life Sports Center.
“Both Patti Mittleman and Hillel were an important part of our daughter’s undergraduate experience,” say John and Barbara Heffer. “Because we feel close to Patti on a personal and professional level, we chose to acknowledge her contribution to Muhlenberg and our family with a leadership gift.”
“Hillel wouldn’t be what it is without Patti,” says Ali. “She has literally done things like drive to New York City to see me if I’m having a bad day. I’m so happy that Hillel is the focus of a fundraising initiative and that my family can name Patti’s office. She encourages people to dream; we truly are part of each other’s families.”
For more information on Muhlenberg’s Hillel House renovation and expansion project, including additional naming opportunities, click here, or contact Patti Mittleman at 484-664-3244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a gift to The Talents Entrusted to Our Care Campaign, click here.