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 for 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.”
Outside of his studies and extracurricular activities on campus, Naibryf was co-founder and CEO of the finance technology startup STIX Financial. Enrolled in the 2021 Polsky Accelerator Program, the company won fourth place in the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s 2021 College New Venture Challenge. “He not only had such big entrepreneurial dreams, but also every quality that he needed to achieve them,” Ruark said.
Naibryf co-founded STIX Financial with Juvencio Maeztu and Ananiya Neeck, both fellow students in the College. Neeck was inspired not only by Naibryf’s passion for financial technology and effecting change in the payments industry, but his positive outlook on life and natural curiosity.
“Ilan was STIX’s fearless leader, propelling us forward through all of the challenges that came with creating a start-up in college and making the impossible seem possible with his upbeat attitude,” said Neeck, a rising fourth-year. “I loved having conversations with Ilan, because I would learn something new and interesting every time and always leave in a good mood.”
With an interest in robotic prosthetics, Naibryf also worked with UChicago Medicine to help create a design that gave accurate elastogram data of malignant tumors. As a student at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, he designed a prosthetic hand, creating the parts with a 3D printer.
Despite only meeting him virtually, Assoc. Prof. David Miller got to know Naibryf this past spring while teaching a course on electricity and magnetism. Naibryf was a frequent attendee at office hours who scheduled additional meetings with Miller to ask about complex material and concepts.
“He was extremely kind and humble in the questions that he asked, and was diligent in following up on any questions that lingered after the exams,” said Miller, who teaches in the Department of Physics.
Prof. Young-Kee Kim, who chairs the Department of Physics, said: “I am profoundly saddened to lose Ilan, an extraordinary and valuable member of our physics department and the University community. He had a dedication and passion for physics, and made significant contributions to the campus community. He will be greatly missed.”
Naibryf is survived by his father, Carlos Naibryf; mother, Ronit Felszer; and his two sisters, Tali Naibryf, AB’19, and Micaela Naibryf.