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Search for Hillel Director Seen Drawing to a Close

The search to fill one of the Jewish community’s highest-profile positions appears to be drawing to a close.

Richard Joel, the popular president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, is stepping down April 30 to become president of Yeshiva University and its affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Speculation is closing in on several candidates to succeed him, including Joseph Kohane, executive director of the Ohio State University Hillel in Columbus. Sources close to the search said a handful of candidates from legal and business backgrounds are also in play, although their names were not immediately available at press time. The search is expected to be completed “in a couple of weeks,” said a Hillel spokesman, Jeff Rubin.

Other candidates said to have been in the running at one point, according to well-placed sources, are Robert Lichtman, executive director of Hillels of New York, and Joel’s No. 2 at Hillel, Jay Rubin, the foundation’s executive vice president. The list of names stretches on.

The job has already been turned down by the executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, John Ruskay, and the president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Barry Shrage, according to sources close to the search. Also, a candidacy was reportedly turned down by Cindy Chazan, director of alumni and community development at the Wexner Foundation, a prestigious fellowship program for prospective Jewish communal workers.

Some sources familiar with Hillel said Joel’s successor would need to be an effective fundraiser and manager, because despite its growth and innovation, the foundation has been losing money steadily for the past 12 months. But Rubin countered that assessment, saying Hillel will end this year “on budget.” He added that Hillel has recently become a member of the national funding council of United Jewish Communities, the roof body of North American federations. The council provides funds to nine national Jewish organizations.

Charles Newman, who is chairing the search committee for Joel’s heir, said there were more than 100 applicants for the job since the process began last October. Newman, immediate past chairman of Hillel’s board of directors, said the 10-person search committee is looking at a number of candidates, including several women and some “who have not been in Jewish communal service. Out of the box candidates, just as Richard was out of the box.” Before joining Hillel, Joel was an assistant district attorney in New York.

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