After more than three years of searching, America’s main Jewish campus network has a new president.
Wayne Firestone, 42, a former attorney, academic and longtime Jewish community professional, was tapped March 17 to become the next president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Firestone, who has served as Hillel’s executive vice president since September 2005, will replace interim president Avraham Infeld.
The promotion, which was announced by the board of directors’ nominating committee, will become official after a vote of the full board in two weeks. Firestone would take the helm of Hillel, which is represented on 500 college and university campuses around the world, on September 1.
He is stepping into the large shoes left by Hillel’s former longtime president, Richard Joel, who served from 1988 to 2003, before becoming president of Yeshiva University.
Infeld, an Israeli and a longtime Jewish educator and leader, took over as interim president.
In his first seven years, Joel virtually transformed Hillel, quadrupling its budget and getting new funding from the Schusterman and Steinhardt foundations, and securing Hillel’s independence from its parent organization, B’nai B’rith.
The organization’s focus under Joel’s leadership was bringing Jews together, as reflected in the motto of “doing Jewish with other Jews.” Now the focus is more universal — on helping students develop Jewish identities within the context of their larger society — and non-Jews are welcome to participate.
Noting that today’s college students, members of a group that sociologists call “the millennials,” are proud of their Jewish identity but leery of institutional affiliation or organizational life, Firestone pledged that Hillel would not try to “impose an agenda” on the students.
As staff director of the organization’s Strategic Planning Committee, Fireston helped craft the group’s new five-year plan. Major goals are doubling the number of students Hillel reaches and creating a $100 million endowment.
Firestone joined Hillel in 2002 as executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, which was tasked with improving Israel’s image on college campuses.