36 Under 36 2009: Deena Greenberg, 22
Thursday, April 23, 2009 - 20:00

 As soon as she heard that the University of Pennsylvania had cancelled its program for study in Israel for the spring semester, Penn Hillel President Deena Greenberg knew she couldn’t stand still.

So she wrote a guest column criticizing the decision in The Daily Pennsylvanian — Penn’s independent student newspaper — where she had been a beat reporter and senior news writer for the past four years. Despite the ongoing Gaza War at the time, the United States had not issued a warning against traveling to Israel since September, and Penn was the only Ivy League university to shut down its Israel program, Greenberg and her co-authors wrote. After reading the column, a representative from Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly contacted her for a joint meeting with Ann Waters, the head of Penn’s Study Abroad Programs.

"By the time we were done meeting with her, she said Israel programs were going to continue," says Greenberg, an alum of The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel program. And though it was too late to resume programming for the current semester, Greenberg said that students will be going to Israel as usual this fall.

For the past year at Hillel, Greenberg has tried to foster a sense of community among Penn’s different Jewish denominations, culminating in the "Jews on Ice" skating benefit last October.

"I think that one of my main goals going in was to make it a lot more cohesive," says Greenberg, who calls herself Orthodox but pluralistic. "I was getting the sense that [the three denominations] were really powerful but it was beginning to stratify the community."

Her activist spirit is by no means limited to the Jewish community. During an Alternate Spring Break trip to Alabama last year, Greenberg met a Penn alum who had initiated a statewide service project called FocusFirst, which brings vision correction screenings to children who lack healthcare and are under public school age. Inspired by this initiative, Greenberg decided to bring FocusFirst to the poor children of urban Philadelphia. "They don’t know the reason why they can’t read is because they actually can’t see," she says. Greenberg arranges for college students to receive training to operate photorefractive cameras, which they have used to screen more than 500 Philadelphian children for glasses. The group is seeking funding from the university to continue the screening program in the fall.

A star athlete:  Greenberg recently completed two sprint triathlons and a half marathon.

Staff Writer

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