The University of Chicago community is mourning the loss of College student Ilan Naibryf and remembering him as a compassionate, dedicated friend.
A rising fourth-year student majoring in physics and minoring in molecular engineering, Naibryf died in the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida, on June 24. He was 21 years old.
“From the moment Ilan was confirmed as missing, the College community has felt immense worry, and now grief, alongside his family and all who had hoped for the safety of loved ones,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Ilan was a talented student, campus leader and friend whose many involvements at UChicago made a substantial impact. He will be greatly missed.”
Deborah Berezdivin, Naibryf’s girlfriend and a student at George Washington University, also died in the collapse. They are among the 97 people who have been confirmed dead as of July 19.
Born in Argentina, Naibryf grew up in South Florida before attending high school in Hawaii, and quickly became active on campus when he came to UChicago in 2018. He was a middle-distance runner for the UChicago track and field team in his first year, and played for three years on the club soccer team, which he captained. As a high school student in 2017, he competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel as part of the U.S. men’s youth soccer team.
Off the field, Naibryf worked as a tutor for the Computer Science Instructional Laboratory and a student employee with the IT Services TechBar in the Regenstein Library. This past school year, he served as president of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center student board.
Rabbi Yossi Brackman, the director of Chabad, said Naibryf was an upbeat, fun-loving student with a memorable smile who was proud of his Jewish identity.
“Ilan was a problem solver,” Brackman said. “He was always a presence at Chabad and was always coming up with ideas and helping out. If I needed someone to welcome a new student, Ilan was my go-to person.”
Naibryf made an impression from the moment he arrived on campus, where he lived in Boyer House as a first-year. His roommate then was Jon Zaghloul, who remembered Naibryf as a warm and welcoming presence who helped him acclimate to undergraduate life.
Zaghloul, now a rising fourth-year student, also recalled how Naibryf would laugh and joke around, injecting fun even into household activities like cooking, organizing a pantry or folding laundry.
“He had a good heart,” Zaghloul said. “He could always tell when something was wrong, and he was always trying to find ways to make you happy and put a smile on your face.”
Kyle Ruark, who also lived in Boyer House, said Naibryf brought a contagious positive energy to everything he did, be it taking photos while traveling, playing guitar, skateboarding or just hanging out with friends on campus.
Once, Ruark and Naibryf had a group dinner in Chicago before heading to Millennium Park.
“Ilan brought his new camera to take some photos,” said Ruark, now a rising fourth-year student. “We ended up skating for a while that night and Ilan took many great pictures. It was such a simple night, yet one of the most enjoyable nights of my time here at the University.”