R' Benjamin Moses Frankel

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R' Benjamin Moses Frankel

Birthplace: Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, United States
Death: December 23, 1927 (30)
Champaign, Champaign County, Illinois, United States (heart attack)
Immediate Family:

Son of Julius Frankel and Lifshe Elizabeth Frankel
Husband of Florence Frankel
Brother of Harry Abraham Frankel; Samuel Oscar Frankel; Gertrude Frankel and MJ Frankel

Occupation: Rabbi / Founder of Hillel
Managed by: Hatte Anne Blejer
Last Updated:

About R' Benjamin Moses Frankel

Ben Frankel married Florence Koenigsberg, but died before they had children. (per his nephew Lee Benjamin Frankel).

Benjamin Frankel, 29 (1899–1929), a Mariampole descendant, known for his warm disposition, directed the world‘s first Hillel Foundation at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

The Bnai Brith Hillel Foundation started inauspiciously at the University of Illinois in 1923, when a local Jewish woman encouraged a promising young man, Benjamin Frankel, to reside in Champaign Urbana as Sinai's part-time rabbi. Three years earlier, he had come to Champaign as another in a long line of rabbinical students from Hebrew Union College serving a part-time, two-year internship with Sinai. The Congregation was still too small to support a full time rabbi. When he completed his studies and was ordained in 1923 at age 26, five or six of the greatest pulpits in America were open to him. He was a charismatic speaker, with a gorgeous voice, fine vocabulary, and a presence that enabled him to dominate any gathering. However, he was attracted by the noble idea that had emerged which compelled him to choose the risky, less remunerate task of service to Jewish college students. He realized that they needed rabbinical leadership not only at Illinois, but at every campus through the country. Benjamin Frankel agreed that Jews like other religious groups could profit from the example of those who pioneered the concept of the religious foundation as an agency enabling college students to express their religious loyalty, especially at tax-supported schools where church and state were clearly separated.

Frankel together with an English professor persuaded a philanthropist to provide the seed money for the Jewish student organization modeled after those for students of Protestant and Catholic backgrounds. Frankel chose the name Hillel to symbolize devotion to Jewish learning. The student organization began on the second floor of a barbershop.

The Hillel organization, originally viewed as a rival to other Jewish groups, became instead as a clearinghouse for the seprate and often conflicting views and activities of Jeiwsh groups. By 1928, Hillel began to overcome the indifference of Jewish college students who were now willing to identify as Jews during fall registration. Frankel also organized Hillels on several other campuses.

Tragically, in 1929, at the early age of 30, Rabbi Frankel died from a heart attack.


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R' Benjamin Moses Frankel's Timeline

September 15, 1897
Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, United States
December 23, 1927
Age 30
Champaign, Champaign County, Illinois, United States