Jeffrey Benaron believes in the power of Jewish day school to build lasting community. As a Sinai Akiba graduate (2002), he knows firsthand the strength of bonds forged in a warm and nurturing day school environment.
“My best friends today are from Sinai Akiba,” he says. “Those friendships really blossomed while I was there, which not only resulted in amazing memories but also cemented relationships I know will last forever.”
For Benaron, whose father is Israeli, relationships were not the only enduring benefit of his years at Sinai Akiba. “My favorite part of school was learning Hebrew – it’s incredibly special to be able to speak to my dad in his native language,” he says. “Beyond just becoming conversational, now when I’m in shul I can understand the liturgy and read Rashi. I’m so thankful for Sinai Akiba, because I wouldn’t have learned those things anyplace else!”
Developing his Jewish identity was also a critical component of Benaron’s tenure at the school. “One of the amazing things about Sinai Akiba is that the values it teaches apply to people from all walks of life. This makes it so easy for everyone to feel comfortable and get involved.”
This ecumenical approach enabled Benaron to embrace his own level of observance and to respect the customs and priorities of his peers. “From an outside perspective, it seems like being Modern Orthodox in a Conservative school would be challenging, but at Sinai Akiba, it really wasn’t,” he recalls.
Benaron is grateful to Sinai Akiba for reinforcing his religious practice (helping him get in the habit of going to synagogue and keeping Shabbat) and for paving the way to later academic achievement. “I went to Harvard-Westlake, and the transition from Sinai Akiba was easy,” he says. From there, he went on to USC and then to George Washington University for an MBA with a specialization in real estate finance.
Even as he works to build a successful real estate business in Los Angeles, Benaron continues to dedicate himself to the ideals upheld by Sinai Akiba. “The school really engaged me in appreciating what I could have taken for granted: that I could grow up as a proud Jew, have such a strong connection to Israel and want to study Torah,” he says.
Today he helps others develop those same passions through his support of SOHO synagogue, a bicoastal group that brings Jewish young adults together to celebrate and to explore their heritage.
Recently married, Benaron and his wife hope to continue the Sinai Akiba tradition for their own children. Of course, he doesn’t know whether they will play basketball or serve on student council, as he did. But whatever interests they choose to pursue, he says, he knows at Sinai Akiba they will find “an amazing space to grow and learn.”