Wearing Judaism on His Sleeve

Duke alumnus Ari Ackerman ‘93 recognized by university for service and leadership to Jewish community

Alumnus at podium speakingJewish Life at Duke is proud to celebrate Ari Ackerman (‘93) as a recipient of the 2022 Beyond Duke Service and Leadership Award. Since 2014, Duke University honors select alumni each year with this prestigious award, recognizing those “who have distinguished themselves through service to their community, their country or to society at large.”

In addition to his work as a successful entrepreneur and investor, Ackerman is a passionate philanthropist with an unwavering dedication for Israel and the Jewish people. Ari’s love for Israel began at a young age, as Jewish Life at Duke Advisory Board Chair and Duke alumna Dana Goldsmith Needleman (’94) shared in her introductory remarks at the Duke Alumni Awards Ceremony on October 1st, 2022. Needleman remembers attending Ackerman's Bar Mitzvah: “Ari’s beloved grandfather and mother had deep roots in Israel and Jewish philanthropy, so Ari and his family turned his occasion into an opportunity to gift their friends and family a life-changing journey to strengthen their bonds with each other, Judaism, and Israel.”

Duke University played its role in shaping Ackerman’s commitment to advocacy and philanthropy while he was an undergraduate student at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences in the early 1990s. In a recent conversation with Jewish Life at Duke staff, Ackerman spoke to his Duke experience. “I am forever grateful to Duke for starting me on my path and encouraging me to expand my view of the world,” Ackerman shared. “As a Political Science major especially, I was taught here to challenge people and ideas that you feel are wrong and not accept attacks that are hate-filled and intolerant. I learned the importance of making your mark. Where I came from and who I am is largely because of this incredible school.”

Ackerman’s love for Israel and the Jewish people has continued throughout his life. His biographical summary released by Duke University in honor of the award ceremony acknowledges Ackerman “is deeply dedicated to ensuring the safety, continuity and strength of the Jewish people and has made many contributions to those efforts.” These contributions include serving in a leadership role with Jewish Federations of North America, into which Ackerman poured himself full-time, co-leading over 70 events in a year to raise money and awareness for JFNA and its mission. His board service has included numerous Jewish organizations including Hillel International, the Jewish Community Relations Council, AIPAC, and UJA-Federation of New York.

“Ari works tirelessly, passionately, and proudly building communities and traveling the world to educate, advocate, and fundraise for Israel and Jewish causes. He gives his time and energy from the bottom of his heart with enormous enthusiasm. He strives to do more than he can to ultimately leave this world a better one than he found it for his family and Jewish people everywhere,” said Needleman.  

Ackerman is a steadfast supporter of and advocate for Jewish Life at Duke, an accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship.

Supporting Jewish Life at Duke’s efforts to connect students with Israel through education, experience, and engagement, Ackerman established the Ackerman Fellows, a program which has sponsored students’ attendance of the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. Jewish Life at Duke Director Joyce Gordon expressed gratitude for Ackerman’s contributions to the work of Jewish Life at Duke, saying, "Ari's dedication to the Jewish community is exceptional. From his support of and advocacy for Duke's Jewish students to Jews the world over, Ari is making positive change daily. I'm delighted that Duke has recognized his deep commitment and inspiring work."

Ackerman has particular concern for Jewish young people in today’s world. “I am proud to sit on multiple boards within the Jewish community and give talks to many organizations—especially those to young Jews on college campuses who face so much hate. With antisemitism and anti-Zionism on the rise, it is harder than ever to be an outspoken supporter and defender of the Jewish people and Israel.”

It is for this very reason Ackerman is grateful to have his philanthropic work and unwavering commitment to Israel and the Jewish people recognized by Duke University through this award. “It is why this award is so especially meaningful,” Ackerman shared with Jewish Life at Duke. “I wear my Jewishness and Zionism on my sleeve, and Duke chose to recognize me for this Jewish advocacy and work I do for the Jewish people.”


About Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke (JLD) is the hub for all things Jewish on Duke’s campus. An accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, JLD takes a pluralistic approach to Judaism to ensure that all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation, are welcome and included.

 Learn how you can support Duke’s Jewish community by becoming a supporter of Jewish Life at Duke here.