Chosen to head Yeshiva University,
Richard Joel faces a new raft of challenges.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
New York City
tudents from Hillel: The
Foundation for Jewish
. Campus Life gathered one
night during General
Assembly of the Jewish federation
system in November and confronted
The students peppered Joel, Hillel's
president and international director,
with criticism that events during the
United Jewish Communities' annual
gathering had condescended to them.
Joel — who had delivered speeches,
participated in panels and spent days
working the summit halls — listened
intently. He expressed sympathy for
the students and asked them how they
would have done things differently.
For Neil Moss, the chairman of
Hillel's board of directors and a long-
time colleague, Joel's reaction was
"warm and engaging" — typical for a
corporate chief who also plays accor-
dion, dances and sings into the wee
hours at summer Hillel retreats. "Some-
times I. joke with him that he's an over-
grown camp counselor," Moss says.
"He's the guy who loses his voice."
Joel's voice now will resonate in a
much wider arena: On Dec. 5, Joel,
52, was named president of Yeshiva
University, the flagship institution of
modern Orthodoxy. His mission,
Joel says, will be "to move along an
institution whose job is to inspire
and educate and give opportunities
to a generation of young people,
who will in fact lead Orthodoxy and
Jewish life and the world at a time
when there is a darkness of values."
He will make the transition from
Hillel to Yeshiva by spring 2003,
Joel says. Joel's election capped a
controversial two-year search that
reflected the debate over whether to
allow someone other than a Torah
scholar to head the world's largest
For the first time in its 116 years, Y.U.
officials named neither a rabbi nor a
Torah scholar, but a charismatic, pop-
ular, modern Orthodox figure widely
regarded for his management and
"I think he'll take an excellent insti-
tution and take it to all kinds of places
we haven't dreamed about," says Barry
Shrage, president of the Combined
Jewish Philanthropies of Greater
Boston. Shrage, who also is a member
of the modern Orthodox movement,
predicts Joel is "going to continue to
develop a vision for modern Orthodoxy
that can be communicated within the
community and outside of it."
For his part, Joel insists he's setting his
sights strictly on the world of Yeshiva,
where he once was dean of the Cardozo
School of Law. He has a daughter at the
school's Stern College for women and a
son at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan
Theological Seminary (RIETS).
"With real humility, I've accepted
the presidency of Y.U. No one has
offered me the leadership of the
Orthodox world," he says.
Hillel's $46 million annual budget.
It's noteworthy that he was elected
during Chanukah, Joel says, as his new
role also is "about the kindling of
lights." Many who have worked with
Many involved in Hillel say Joel fueled
Joel are confident he'll succeed. In
the turnaround with his sheer magnet-.
part, they point to Joel's professional
ism. Schusterman calls Joel a "pied
skills and his 14-year record at Hillel:
piper," while many cite his charisma in
He took an organization of campus
the near-reverent tones groupies
reserve for rock stars.
religious chapters loosely tied to B'nai
B'rith and on the brink of financial
"He has a vision for Jewish life that is
collapse, and transformed Hillel into a
very deep and compelling and profound,"
high-profile, well-funded, corporate-
says Rabbi Jim Diamond, director of the
Center for Jewish Life at Princeton
University and of the Princeton Hillel.
"He took an organization that was
considered dorky and turned it around
"He is the total package. He has
into a place kids want to be," says Lynn extraordinary ability in all areas —
Schusterman, president of the Charles
vision, speaking, people skills, manage-
and Lynn Schusterman Foundation,
ment skills, creativity," adds Jay Rubin,
which has donated a good portion of • Hillel's executive vice president.