The global Jewish community was left reeling on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022 by the tragic passing of Cheryl Aronson z”l. She was 58 years old.
Aronson, who worked as a Jewish professional for nearly four decades, was a stalwart pillar in the world of Israel engagement and beloved by colleagues and friends. She left a vibrant legacy that will impact the Jewish world for years to come.
Born in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, Massachusetts on Sept. 3, 1963, and raised in nearby Lexington, Aronson received her Jewish education at Prozdor at Hebrew College in Brookline, attended Camp Yavneh, and frequently traveled to Israel. She graduated magna cum laude from Clark University, where she studied psychology. Aronson earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, and later, a master’s degree in Jewish studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Known to many of her colleagues and friends as "Tzippi," her journey as a Jewish professional began at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, where she worked for three decades and served in a number of executive capacities. Much of her work focused on helping young people discover their Jewish heritage through connection to Israel.
As colleague Gidi Mark, CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, shared in a reflection for eJewish Philanthropy, “Her passion [was] to open a loving, authentic and inviting door to our younger generations to not simply learn about Judaism and Israel, but to be Jewish and to experience Israel – in all their intricate and splendid complexity.”
In 2007, Aronson founded the IACT (Inspired, Active, Committed, and Transformed) Campus Engagement Program. IACT was designed to keep college students engaged in Israel education after their Birthright Israel trips ended. After many years of close collaboration, the IACT program was formally acquired by Hillel International in 2020, where Aronson began her role as vice president of Israel engagement.
Along with IACT, Aronson also pioneered several other programs, including the Follow Me to Israel Institute, Parents at the Center, the Boston-Haifa Connection, and the Israel Campus Roundtable. She received several awards throughout her career in honor of this transformative work, including the Hebrew College Hillson Award for leadership in Jewish education, the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Excellence in Jewish Education Award, and the Klal Yisrael Award from the Synagogue Council and Mandel’s Leadership Executive Development program.
To honor Aronson, colleagues and friends wrote about their memories of her in an online memorial book. Several words and phrases were cited over and over again, among them: kindness, commitment, and ahavat Yisrael (love for the Jewish people). They said Aronson’s love for Israel, the Jewish people and her work were driving forces in her life that inspired those around her.
“Cheryl was Moses, she had a calling from God to spread her love of Israel to all Hillel professionals and beyond,” reflected Allyson Tazbin, IACT coordinator at Brandeis Hillel.
Esther Abramowitz, associate vice president of global Israel experiences at Hillel International, shared: “Cheryl taught me so much about ahavat Yisrael, optimism, and joy. She loved the Jewish people with all of her heart and soul and shared that love and passion with anyone she encountered.”
Others spoke of Aronson’s kindness, sharing memories of all the mazel tovs she sent during times of celebration, moments taken to check in on someone, or occasions of going above and beyond to help out a friend or colleague in need.
Gil Troy, distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and lay chair of the Taglit-Birthright Israel International Education Committee, shared the following in a eulogy: “Most eulogies emphasize her successes – I recall two ‘shortcomings.’ She didn’t know how to be ‘just’ a colleague – as soon as she joined the committee, our ideological click ran so deep we felt like old friends. Nor did she know how to be a bystander. She understood that the real work begins when the meeting ends.”
“Cheryl was one of the finest professionals I ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Professor Joseph Reimer of Brandeis University. “She was always thoughtful, supportive, collaborative and one step ahead on the planning. Cheryl was as dedicated to the good of the Jewish people as anyone I ever met. She was such a credit to her family and community.”
Aronson is survived by her mother, Esther, and her sister, Diane.
A shining example of a Jewish professional — passionate vision, tireless devotion, immense kindness — her loss is one that will forever leave a hole in the community. But her tremendous legacy will live on for generations to come. May her memory be for a blessing.
Donations in memory of Cheryl Aronson may be made to the Mifgash Fund in Memory of Cheryl Aronson. Please make checks payable to CJP, referencing the Mifgash Fund in Memory of Cheryl Aronson, mailed to Combined Jewish Philanthropies, PO Box 723 Reading, MA 01867-0413 or by credit card at www.cjp.org/DAF, click on “Contribute to a DAF,” and be sure to include the fund name Mifgash Fund in Memory of Cheryl Aronson. Contributions will be applied net of credit card processing fees.