Slifka Center founder dies

Alan Slifka ’51, founder of Yale’s Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, died Friday at his home in Los Angeles, Calif. He was 81.

Slifka, a venture philanthropist and the founder of hedge fund Halcyon/Alan B. Slifka & Company, founded the Slifka Center in 1995 with his mother as a tribute to his late father, Joseph Slifka.

Before the Slifka Center was established, Yale Hillel’s facilities consisted of underground offices and a dining hall, said Rabbi James Ponet ’68. The Slifka Center was intended to serve as a hub of Jewish life for Yale students and community members alike, Ponet said, but Slifka also sought to welcome students of other faiths.

Slifka was the leading benefactor of the Slifka Center and mobilized his fellow alumni to donate to the cause in the years leading up to the center’s construction, Ponet said. His donation also prompted a $1.5 million financing contribution from the University.

“The Slifka Center is a gift of Jewish alumni to the Yale campus,” he said. “It’s both a memorial and a living gift.”

The Slifka Center is a testament to the coexistence and “connectivity” that Slifka valued so highly during his lifetime, Ponet added.

Although the Slifka Center was created with Jewish life in mind, Ponet said, it was also meant to be a “public community and religious center” that would be accessible to all members of the Yale community.

“He wanted it to be Jewish, but he did not want [visitors] to feel as though [they] had left Yale,” Ponet said of Slifka’s vision for the project.

Beyond his work at the center, where he remained an active member of the campus’s Jewish community and often contributed to events, Slifka was a philanthropist and activist abroad. Daniel Rose ’51, Slifka’s friend of 65 years and fellow Yale classmate, said that Slifka’s nonprofit organization, the Abraham Fund, helped to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians by encouraging them to work together on health education and welfare projects.

Rose added that Slifka’s personal and professional lives, as well as his philanthropic work, earned him the respect of friends and colleagues.

Slifka and Rose met on a ski trip in high school, and the two became lifelong friends. While Rose mourns the loss of his friend, he also said he celebrates Slifka’s “integrity and character.”

“[Alan] is on the short list of those who I can truly say that I admired and respected,” Rose said. “His activities will live on indefinitely, and he will live on through them.”

Slifka’s son, David Slifka ’01, is a member of the center’s board of trustees and is also an active participant at the Slifka Center, Ponet said.

Slifka’s passing is a “hard loss,” Ponet said, adding that he hopes to honor the center’s founder with a public memorial event for the community.

“If there will be a memorial event, I would like to do it with a spirit of connectivity,” he said.

The Slifka Center has started discussions about ways to keep Slifka’s memory alive, Ponet added. The building is named after his father and the chapel is named after his mother, Sylvia, and leaders at the center would like to incorporate the memory of its chief benefactor, though they have not yet settled on a plan.

A memorial service for Alan Slifka will be held in New York City April 10.

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