Who the Folk?! Benjie Kaplan

Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of the community as our “Person of the Week.” Last week we got to know Jen Zaligson. This week meet Benjie Kaplan! Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].

TC Jewfolk: Are you from the Twin Cities?

Benjie: I was born and raised in Mendota Heights, Minnesota and currently reside in Edina with my wife Libby (St. Louis Park) and goldendoodle Gus (Amery, WI).While I moved away for 12 years, living in Kansas, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Illinois, Minnesota has always been my home.

TCJ: You just became the Executive Director of the University of Minnesota Hillel. Mazel Tov! What appealed to you about that job?

Benjie: As an undergraduate at the University of Kansas I had the opportunity to volunteer with a first-year Hillel director and help him begin the process of turning around a Hillel that, at the time, was not in great shape. It was during that year volunteering with Hillel that I realized the unique ability Hillel has to foster friendships, build community and inspire Jewish journeys. That experience inspired me to pursue a position with Hillel at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as my first job out of college. Since leaving Madison in 2004 I have been waiting for the right opportunity to return to my Hillel roots, and the stars have finally aligned.

TCJ: What are you most excited about? 

Benjie: For the past 10 years I have been a professional fundraiser. While there is great joy in helping people make a difference through their philanthropy, which will remain part of my work, I am most excited to be back on campus, building community and guiding the development of our future community leaders.

TCJ: Rah rah rah for ski-u-mah? 

Benjie: Is that the U’s equivalent to Rock Chalk Jayhawk?

TCJ: Are you involved in any other TC organizations?

Benjie: After we lost my mother to cancer in 2012, I have become involved with the Lymphoma Research Foundation. In 2013 I was part of their Love to Find a Cure event committee, and continue to be active through their annual Lymphomathon walk/run at Lake Nokomis. This year’s event is June 7th and there is no cost to participate (shameless plug). You can sign up to be part of our team, Pat’s Pacers, at lymphomathon.com

TCJ: If there was a showdown between all the Jewish summer camps, who would you want to win?

Benjie: My only experiences are with Herzl Camp, Camp Chi and the St. Paul JCC’s Camp Butwin. They all offer amazing experiences, however, having spent seven summers of my childhood there, I would have to say Herzl.

TCJ: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?

Benjie: Family dinner with a good brisket and enough Challah to have leftovers for French toast the next morning.

TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Benjie: Challah French toast. Thats Jewish-ish right?

TCJ: Who is the coolest Jew?

Benjie: There is nothing better than quality Jewish humor and for that reason I have a tie between Andy Samberg (new school) and Mel Brooks (old school).

TCJ: Have you been to Israel? What is your favorite memory?

Benjie: This June I will be departing on my 5th trip to Israel. I am an Alexander Muss High School in Israel Alum, staffed a Birthright Israel trip with UW-Madison Hillel, led a donor mission trip for the Jewish United Fund in Chicago and spent a summer on the beaches of Tel Aviv following a week long graduate school seminar. My favorite memory (other than beating all the old men on the beach in games of Shesh Besh) would have to be entering the Old City for the first time. I get emotional every time I return.

benjie kaplanTCJ: What’s your favorite thing to do in the Cities?

Benjie: My wife and I have an ongoing countdown to the Minnesota State Fair. While we enjoy going to Twins games and walking the dog around the lakes, nothing beats the Great Minnesota Get Together. We attend the fair at least twice each summer, donate to the State Fair Foundation, our wedding was planned for a State Fair weekend so all of our friends and family could be here to experience it too and yes, I proposed to Libby on the Sky Ride.

TCJ: Give us one more reason why you are folking awesome!

Benjie: Thanks to years of playing the trombone, I blow a mean shofar on high holidays.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!