Yeshiva University News » President Richard M. Joel

Oct 21, 2004 — Students will have an opportunity to learn leadership skills during a special Shabbaton with President Richard M. Joel, October 22-23, Parshat Lech Lecha.

President and Mrs. Joel will join students from Stern College for Women, Sy Syms School of Business, and Yeshiva College on the Beren Campus, along with David Himber, dean of students; Karen Bacon, PhD, The Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern; Ephraim Kanarfogel, PhD, chairman of Stern’s Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies; and Jeffrey Rosengarten, associate vice president for administrative services.

During the Annual Leadership Shabbaton, President Joel will share his ideas on shaping the Jewish future, the importance of activism, and community-building efforts, while exploring the theme, “Diversity in the Jewish Community.” In addition, students will get to know one another and voice their opinions on issues of interest to young Jews.


Jun 4, 2004 — At the 104th Gratz College Commencement on May 16 in suburban Philadelphia President Richard Joel was awarded the degree of Doctor of Hebrew Laws. More than 600 people attended the ceremony, which had 16 graduates from the Jewish programs and approximately 150 from the general MA-Ed program.

Gratz is one of the oldest academic institutions of Jewish studies in America and is home to the largest Jewish college preparatory program in the United States, offering intensive Jewish studies to Jewish students attending public and private high schools. JCHS teaches social responsibility through its Service Learning Institute and offers several self-contained programs for students with significant developmental and learning disabilities.

Dr. Jonathan Rosenbaum, President of Gratz College, remarked that “President Richard Joel pinpointed the pivotal challenges that face the next generation of American Jewish Leaders and suggested active responses. He linked Gratz College and his own Yeshiva University as profoundly Jewish institutions serving a broad community, and he inspired our graduates by showing that serving humanity has rewards that make life itself worthwhile.”


Article Photo From left to right: Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU national executive vice president, Harvey Blitz, OU national president, and President Richard M. Joel.

Dec 17, 2003 — President Richard M. Joel kicked off the 13th annual Orthodox Union Torah Convention in Los Angeles on Thursday, Dec. 11, when he delivered the keynote address, “The State of the Jewish People,” at a dinner held at Congregation Shaarei Tefila.

During the five-day conference, “The Secret to Jewish Survival: The Jewish Family,” President Joel also delivered the drasha (sermon) on Shabbat morning at Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, the largest Modern Orthodox shul in Los Angeles.


Dec 16, 2003 — Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel delivered an address at the Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Herzliya Conference in Herzliya, Israel, on Thursday, Dec. 18.

The fourth annual conference, “The Balance of Israel’s National Security: Setting National Priorities,” was sponsored by The Institute for Policy and Strategy, the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

President Joel spoke on “Building Future Jewish Leadership.” Other issues he addressed were The Jewish World Agenda and Future Challenges for Jewish Leadership; and Training and Nurturing Leadership for Diaspora Communities and Campuses.

The conference featured presentations by prominent policy makers and strategists from all over the world, including Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister of Israel and current finance minister; Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs; Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, chief of general staff, Israel Defense Forces; Dr. Yuval Steinitz, chair of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; Avishay Braverman, president of Ben-Gurion University, Ronald Heifetz of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; and Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School.


Aug 22, 2003 — Richard Joel is well aware that on the eve of his being chosen president of Yeshiva University last December, a number of students and rabbis were so opposed to his election that they recited Tehillim (Psalms), a prayerful response to times of crisis and danger. For some, the fact that Joel was not a rabbinic scholar and, moreover, had for years headed Hillel, the Jewish campus organization that celebrates pluralism, signaled an impending revolution for Yeshiva, away from its Torah roots.

But they will be proven only half-right. Yeshiva under Joel indeed promises much change — in style, substance and outlook. That change, though, will stem not from the direction of secularism but from Joel’s commitment to the Jewish people’s historic role as a light unto the nations.

Yeshiva, he believes, stays truest to its mission by expanding rather than narrowing its goals, encountering the world rather than retreat-ing from it.

Six weeks into the new post and preparing for his formal investiture next month as only the fourth president of Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution in a century, Joel seems confident that his experience, belief, vision and force of personality will win over skeptics and advance Yeshiva’s motto of Torah U’Madah, the blending of both Torah and secular learning.

He doesn’t say so in as many words, though. And in recent talks he has made reference to his avoidance of the Torah U’Madah phrase, noting that it is fraught with ideology while he is, instead, committed to action. That action most likely will not be frontal, taking on those who oppose his outlook, but rather used to focus energy on his goals, and on those who share them.

During a two-hour conversation — his first full interview as the head of Yeshiva — in his newly renovated office on the Washington Heights campus, the 52-year-old Joel seemed to be trying out his new persona of both university president and representative of an ideology rooted in tradition but obliged to embrace, as well as at times confront, modernity.

“I’m learning a lot,” he says of the several months he has spent talking to students, rabbis, faculty and lay leaders about the needs and goals of Yeshiva, a complex institution comprised of men’s and women’s undergraduate colleges, a rabbinic school, a medical school, law school, and other graduate institutions with sometimes competing needs and interests.

“I want to move forward, but I have to be careful. You want to build this … to last.”

Indeed, he is well aware that many eyes in the Orthodox community and beyond are on him these days because Yeshiva, and by extension the centrist Orthodox community, is in the midst of an intense, ongoing tug of war between those calling for a greater or lesser amount of involvement with the rest of the community, as well as questions about women’s roles and the value of secular education.

Joel’s is a delicate perch, yet instinctively he is eager to engage. He is an advocate and model of Modern Orthodoxy and has expressed frustration over the community’s trend toward separation from the rest of society. There is a part of him, though, that is holding back as well, and he acknowledges the tension.

“I am trying to find my language in this setting,” he says, “but I am not taking on a different world view than I had at Hillel. People who knew me there knew I wasn’t walking away from my commitment to Orthodoxy, but I was embracing others. And from the very beginning we found a way to have a big tent without saying that everyone in that tent was by definition ‘legitimate.’

“We Jews should find the grounds where we can be one people with one heart,” he continues. “But to me pluralism means I honor your right to be wrong. It’s not relativism. I believe that my truth is the truth, and I don’t have to say your truth is the truth. I can honor and esteem who you are, hope there is much we share, and make it safe to argue or fight when it’s appropriate. But I don’t have to say there are many paths up Mt. Sinai.”

Joel seems committed to doing what he did for Hillel when he took over the then-moribund organization 13 years ago, first healing from within, uniting the various elements of the institution, giving students and staff a greater voice, calling for standards of excellence, and sharing his dream with the larger community.

“I don’t want to pretend to be what I’m not,” Joel says. “I am not a rabbi and I am not going to pretend to be a teacher of Orthodox tradition. I am a working Jew, a learning Jew.” And his job, he says, is to build an institution that nurtures learning and inspires “more young people to learn Torah and to live a life of Torah.” He says he is not a spokesman for Modern Orthodoxy but rather the president of an institution “training the next generation of leaders of Modern Orthodoxy.”

But don’t look for Joel to take a backseat role. Officials at Yeshiva say they already sense a change in style at the top, with Joel taking on a more hands-on role than his predecessor, Dr. Norman Lamm, who now serves as chancellor after more than 25 years at the helm. For example, Joel recently chose to get involved in working out a relatively minor faculty dispute, according to a school official, and managed to come up with an agreeable compromise.

He has met with the rabbinic faculty and is says to favor several of the younger rabbis. He wants undergrads to feel more cared for, and has hired Hillel Davis, an experienced business executive, for the new post of vice president of university life. He has also hired Ed Fox, a seasoned administrator, as deputy to the president, and Joel says he is still building an administrative team that will give him strong executive responsibility.

“He is a doer,” one rabbinic member of the faculty says of Joel, “and he is too smart to get caught up in ideological confrontations with the rabbis. He will make his mark through programmatic and communal change,” working around the rabbis if they won’t work with him.

The results may be the same, though, as Joel speaks of placing a greater emphasis on training rabbis to better serve and lead their communities, providing day schools with skilled modern educators, expanding Yeshiva’s involvement in and connection with Israel, and promoting Jewish communal work as a dignified profession. He speaks of kedusha, which he defines as “nobility” rather than sanctity, and calls for “ennobling and enabling” young people to serve the community.

Joel says Orthodox Jews walk a delicate line of being both a part of, and apart from, the world, and that “we have to know our values and be comfortable with them so we can then risk being out in that world.” He admits that it is “a difficult task” to “inform the world and learn from it while remembering who we are,” but notes that “when we retreat to black and white, we sometimes drive the color out.”

He says he also wants to use his “bully pulpit” to tell society at large to “come back from the abyss and latch on to immutable values” like those Judaism has to offer.

Joel feels he is being given a year “to use training wheels” in his new post, but he is well aware of the opportunity he has to set his mark during this honeymoon period. “What’s frightening,” he says, “is that the stakes are so high, but what’s exciting is the prospect of advancing the mission of the Jewish people through our young people.”

Samuel Heilman, a Queens college professor and expert on Orthodox life, gives Joel high marks as “a great public figure and warm human being,” but worries that as “neither a rabbi nor academic, will he have enough of an understanding of what a university is to be able to help it reach its potential?”

His advice is for Joel to hire a “first-rate provost” who understands university life and Orthodoxy.

But Joel is confident he has the staffing he needs and is ready to translate his vision into action, noting: “I was given permission to dream and listen to the dreams of those around me,” he says. “But the only way to make it happen is to wake up.”

©The Jewish Week – Gary Rosenblatt

Dec 13, 2002 — As he prepares to depart for the presidency of Yeshiva University, Hillel’s international director Richard Joel is being lauded by current and former campus Hillel directors and observers of the Jewish college organization, who say he revitalized a once-struggling institution and made the college campus a major Jewish communal priority.

Since he took its helm in 1988, Joel has shepherded Hillel to independence from its parent organization B’nai B’rith, deepened its financial ties to the Jewish communal federation system and brought leading Jewish philanthropists on board. Current and former local Hillel directors also credit Joel with bringing them unprecedented financial and organizational resources with which to engage much larger numbers of Jewish college students.

Hillel’s budget has surged from $14 million in 1988 to $51 million in 2002, according to Hillel’s director of communications, Jeff Rubin, and the organization raised $210 million in its five-year “Campaign for Jewish Renaissance.”

“Richard has transformed not only the quality and quantity of Hillel as an organization and as an agency, but even more profoundly I think he has transformed the way in which North American Jewry sees Hillel and understands its mission,” said Rabbi James Diamond, the Hillel director at Princeton University, who has worked at Hillel for the last 34 years. “He’s raised the consciousness of North American Jewry to the positive possibilities and potential of the campus. And he has enabled us to see the campus as a Promised Land and not as a disaster area of the Jewish people.”

Observers attribute Joel’s success at Hillel to his vision, charisma and organizational talents. Good timing also played its part: Soon after Joel, whose previous job was associate dean and professor at Y.U.’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, took over the movement, the controversial 1990 National Jewish Population Survey data showed an intermarriage rate of 52%, and efforts to save the “vanishing American Jew,” especially of marrying age, became a communal priority. Hillel also became the central address of Birthright Israel, a program created by several major philanthropists that in 1998 began offering free trips to Israel for college-age Jews.

Current and former Hillel directors say expanded financial resources and new programs initiated during Joel’s tenure, such as the Jewish Campus Service Corps, funded by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, in which recent college graduates perform outreach work on campus, have helped them engage unaffiliated Jews. Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, director of Tufts Hillel for the last 24 years, said that during Joel’s tenure the number of students active in his Hillel has “quadrupled,” something he attributes in large part to Joel’s leadership.

Hillel has also expanded internationally during Joel’s tenure. Working with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Hillel has opened 27 Hillel foundations in the former Soviet Union, with the first launching in 1997.

The Hillel system Joel leaves behind stands in sharp contrast to the one he took over nearly 15 years ago. Hillel’s relationship with its strapped parent organization B’nai B’rith was known to be strained, and many Hillel directors say that staff morale throughout the system was low, with many campuses suffering from a dearth of financial resources.

By 1994, however, Joel had successfully managed to gain Hillel’s independence from B’nai B’rith. The following year, Hillel secured a new funding arrangement with the Council of Jewish Federations, a precursor to today’s United Jewish Communities, under which Hillel became “the central federation agency through which campus services are delivered.”

“Would there be Hillel without him? Oh boy, that’s almost a tough question. I mean how close were we to not having Hillel? I’d say we were closer than I think anybody wanted to admit,” said Rabbi Abie Ingber, executive director of the Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center. “Just for not having let Hillel falter any more than it did, I think he deserves tremendous credit.”

Indeed, in the process of transforming Hillel, Joel has managed to win over even some of those who were initially skeptical of the former assistant district attorney in New York who had never previously worked for Hillel. Rabbi Albert Axelrad, who was Hillel director at Brandeis University from 1965 to 1999 and is currently chair of the Center for Spiritual Life at Boston’s Emerson College, said he was initially vociferously opposed to the appointment of Joel because he preferred a Hillel insider for the job. He now says he was “really wrong” and that Joel is “the most energetic and dynamic person I’ve ever been exposed to, and charismatic too.”

Rabbi Gerry Serotta, the former Hillel director at George Washington University who worked for Hillel for 27 years, said that Joel “gave us the resources to reach the almost unreachable.” Today, he said, compared to other student clubs and organizations, “usually the Hillel is bigger than anything on campus at this stage. That was not the case 20 years ago…. Hillel is far and away the success story of the American campus, and that’s because of the resources that Richard’s been able to develop.”

However, Serotta added that as Hillel became “more connected to the establishment” it also lost its “anti-establishmentarian, creative edge,” which he said “helped nurture the Jewish student movement in the late 1960s and the 1970s.”

“Hillels have become very strong Jewish community centers on campus,” Serotta said. “They used to be havurot with intensive relationships with students and faculty and leadership training and high-quality Jewish education around the rabbi.” Increasingly, he noted, Hillel directors are not rabbis.

He said, however, that Joel has given Hillel “a much broader approach” that may have benefited “the masses of students.”

Still, there are critics of aspects of Hillel under Joel. Several people who during the 1990s worked for independent national Jewish student organizations said that while Joel deserves credit for revitalizing Hillel, during his tenure Hillel failed to create an atmosphere conducive to sustaining independent Jewish student groups and initiatives. And in a March 1999 Tikkun magazine article, a former student member of Hillel’s international board of directors, Jeremy Deutchman, accused the organization of adhering to a philosophy of “bodies first, religion second,” favoring “cool,” entertaining events over programs emphasizing Jewish study and prayer.

The chairman of Hillel’s international board of directors, Neil Moss, said that Joel would likely step down from his Hillel post sometime in the spring. He said that a search committee composed of members of Hillel’s board of governors and board of directors has already been appointed and will conduct “a broad and very open search” for a successor.

©Forward – Daniel Treiman

Dec 13, 2002 — Like a New York society debutante, Richard Joel premiered Sunday night as president-elect of Yeshiva University during the school’s annual black-tie fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Joel, who developed a reputation as a master fundraiser and institutional visionary during his stint as international director of Hillel (Please see Page 12), was well-received by Y.U. party-goers — some of whom were simply relieved to see the university close the book on its awkward quest to replace the retiring Rabbi Norman Lamm. Others were genuinely excited at the prospect of Joel’s heading the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, a university network of undergraduate and graduate schools with an annual budget of $470 million and an endowment of $900 million.

The good feelings at the Waldorf, however, contrasted sharply with the scene last week on the Washington Heights campus shared by Yeshiva’s undergraduate college for men and its affiliated rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Hundreds of students reportedly signed a petition opposing Joel on the grounds that as a non-rabbi he lacked the religious standing to head the seminary; students and several of the seminary’s top rabbis, or roshei yeshiva, attended a prayer rally to protest the appointment on the same grounds. Still, the university and seminary boards both selected Joel December 5 in lopsided votes.

Simultaneously serving as president of both the seminary and the university, Lamm and his predecessors were seen as representing the embodiment of Modern Orthodoxy’s commitment to secular and religious spheres of knowledge. But after several prominent rabbis with suitable academic qualifications dropped out, Lamm and Y.U. board chairman Ronald Stanton agreed that circumstances required a revised archetype. They lobbied hard for Joel, a former New York City prosecutor and former dean of Yeshiva’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, to fill the new mold.

Perhaps more theologically significant than the actual choice of a non-rabbi was the triumph of Lamm and Stanton in advancing Joel’s candidacy over the objections of the roshei yeshiva. This turn of events seemed to fly in the face of recent complaints from members of the liberal wing of Modern Orthodoxy, upset over what they claimed was a “move to the right” by Y.U. and its seminary.

Central to this liberal criticism was the claim that the leading roshei yeshiva had assumed an increasingly dominant grip on the Modern Orthodox community, effectively disempowering pulpit rabbis and communal lay leaders. Such a system, critics complained, mirrors the concept of da’as Torah, the leadership model adhered to in the ultra-Orthodox world, which places communal decisions — religious or otherwise — in the hands of the most revered talmudic scholars in the seminaries.

In the end, however, Y.U.’s most important decision in a quarter-century was made according to the leadership model advocated by the liberal camp: Lamm, essentially playing the role of communal rabbi, worked in conjunction with lay leaders to select Joel — even over the objections of the leading talmudic scholars at the seminary.

“We don’t work on the concept of da’as Torah,” said Lamm, a noted Judaics scholar, philosopher and former pulpit rabbi. “The fact that a rosh yeshiva is for or against should be listened to, respectfully, but there is no principle of infallibility that we accept. They are serious people, and I respect them for having their opinions. But at the end of the day, it’s the board that has to take responsibility for the decision.”

The seminary board ultimately decided that Joel would be introduced publicly as the “chief executive officer” — not president — of the seminary. Rabbi Moshe Tendler described the move as an important, albeit not fully satisfactory, attempt to address the objections of many of his fellow roshei yeshiva. Lamm downplayed the significance of the move, saying that only recently did he discover that technically he, too, has been the CEO of the seminary. But, in a clearly significant change, Lamm has agreed to stay on as the top rosh yeshiva, a post previously held by the president of the university and seminary. The Y.U. board also is following through on its plan to appoint Lamm to the newly created post of university chancellor.

In addition to his 14-year stint at Hillel, Joel was widely praised for heading an independent commission charged with investigating a sex scandal involving one of the Orthodox Union’s top youth group leaders. Joel, who received undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, has sent three of his children to Yeshiva University.

Lamm and Joel both told the Forward that they were optimistic about their ability to work together and to navigate any questions that might arise concerning the new leadership structure. When questions of Jewish law come up, Joel said that he will turn to Lamm for a final decision.

Despite his endorsement of Joel, Lamm said he understands the objections of the roshei yeshiva.

“These are people whose lives are built around Torah,” Lamm said. “They are concerned about what will happen if they have a president who is not like them. I have less concern. I know [Joel's] background. He may not have the credentials, but he has the values and the leadership. He will do what has to be done to keep Y.U. and RIETS true to their historic mission.”

According to sources familiar with the seminary board meeting, two of the most respected roshei yeshiva, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig and Rabbi Mayer Twersky, were invited to speak before the final vote. Insiders said that the rabbis spoke out strongly against the appointment of a non-rabbi, while avoiding any direct reference to Joel. Later in the meeting, Lamm told the Forward, he warned the seminary board that it would be “disastrous” if they did not appoint Joel, since he had already been approved by the Y.U. board.

Rosensweig and Twersky declined to comment, citing a general policy of not granting press interviews.

©Forward – Ami Eden

Dec 9, 2002 — For the first time in its nearly 90 years as a university, Yeshiva University has named a president who is not a rabbi.

Richard M. Joel, president of Hillel, an organization that provides services for Jewish students on college campuses worldwide, was named president of Yeshiva on Thursday, after a vote by the boards of both the university and its rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Mr. Joel was widely credited with revitalizing Hillel, with many chapters experiencing significant growth in participation, fund raising, and the creation of facilities under Mr. Joel’s leadership. But the students who participate in Hillel have a range of religious observance, while Yeshiva is considered an educational flagship of Orthodox Judaism.

“People are thrilled to have someone who is a seasoned professional, communal leader, and respected Jewish thinker,” said Peter L. Ferrara, a university spokesman.

Mr. Ferrara added that Mr. Joel “received a pretty resounding mandate,” citing the Yeshiva Board of Trustees vote of 35 to 1 in favor of Mr. Joel. Of the 28 members of the seminary’s board, 26 voted for Mr. Joel, while 2 abstained.

“He may not be a Torah educator or a rabbi, but he is a highly respected Jewish thinker,” Mr. Ferrara said. “He’s been largely responsible for a huge renaissance in Jewish life on campuses throughout America and the world.”

But according to an article in The Commentator, the undergraduate newspaper at Yeshiva, at least two rabbis at the seminary voiced opposition to the appointment of Mr. Joel at the last meeting of the rabbinical school board before its vote on Mr. Joel’s appointment. Also, a petition started by a rabbinical student calling for a president who is a Torah scholar drew approximately 500 signatures, according to the newspaper.

Yeshiva has been searching for a new president to run the university and the seminary for nearly two years. While Mr. Joel will assume both of those positions, he will not be the rosh yeshiva (chief scholar) of the seminary. All previous presidents of Yeshiva have had that position.

Mr. Joel will succeed Rabbi Norman Lamm, who has served as president since 1976. Rabbi Lamm will be staying at the university in the newly created position of chancellor, and he will remain rosh yeshiva of the rabbinical school.

According to Mr. Ferrara, the position of chancellor was created with Rabbi Lamm in mind. “I’m not sure there would be a chancellor position without him,” he said.

Before working with Hillel, Mr. Joel was an assistant dean of the Yeshiva University law school and director of alumni affairs at the university.

Mr. Joel, who was not available for comment, released a statement on Thursday expressing gratitude to Hillel and anticipation of his move. “I am inspired by a vision of a Jewish renaissance,” he wrote. “I believe Yeshiva University is central to that vision. Having a chance to foster the advancement of those ideals is an opportunity we could not resist.”

©The Chronicle of Higher Education – Megan Rooney
Dec 8, 2002 — Students from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life gathered one night during the recent General Assembly of the Jewish federation system and confronted Richard Joel.
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 longtime colleague, Joel’s reaction was “warm and engaging” — typical for a corporate chief who also plays accordion, dances and sings into the wee hours at summer Hillel retreats.

“Sometimes I joke with him that he’s an overgrown 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 Orthodox university.

For the first time in its 116 years, Y.U. officials named neither a rabbi nor a Torah scholar, but a charismatic, popular modern Orthodox figure widely regarded for his management and fund-raising skills.

“I think he’ll take an excellent institution 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, or 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.

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 Joel say they’re confident he’ll succeed.

In part, they point to Joel’s professional skills and his 14-year track record at Hillel: He took an organization of campus religious chapters loosely tied to B’nai B’rith and on the brink of financial collapse, and transformed it into a high-profile, well-funded, corporate-style entity, they say.

“He took an organization that was considered dorky and turned it around into a place kids want to be,” says Lynn Schusterman, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, which has donated a good portion of Hillel’s $46 million annual budget.

Many involved in Hillel say Joel fueled the turnaround with his sheer magnetism. Schusterman calls Joel a “pied piper,” while many cite his “charisma” in the near-reverent tones groupies reserve for rock stars.

“He has a vision for Jewish life that is very deep and compelling and profound,” says Rabbi Jim Diamond, director of the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University and of the Princeton Hillel.

“He is the total package. He has extraordinary ability in all areas — vision, speaking, people skills, management skills, creativity,” adds Jay Rubin, Hillel’s executive vice president.

Joel’s rhetorical abilities are well-known. Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, says Joel “realizes the power of language in conveying ideas, in motivating people and institutions.”

It was Joel who created the two key catch-phrases at the core of Hillel: “Jewish renaissance” and the motto, “maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish.”

Still, some say the key is Joel’s ability to marry lofty words to real strategies.

“It’s not a JFK-style charisma, it’s something deeper,” Shrage says. “What he has is a real vision that he can articulate and bring to life. People know he’s for real.”

Joel is also a workhorse, many say. Seth Goldstein, now a New York University law school student, earned an Edgar Bronfman scholarship while he was a Hillel member at Cornell University, which enabled him to work as an aide to Joel for a year.

“He’s nonstop; he never says no,” recalls Goldstein, 24. “His days start at 6:30 a.m. and go to 2:30 a.m. I would leave him at 1:15 a.m. and he’d still be going.”

Joel also served as chairman of an O.U. commission that investigated sexual harassment in the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner. In December 2000 the panel released part of a scathing 332-page report blaming O.U. leaders for ignoring reports of Lanner’s abuse and urging major organizational reforms

At Hillel, Joel applied the kind of power-sharing leadership techniques that management gurus advocate. Colleagues speak of having “autonomy” and being allowed to “take ownership” of their work.

But he also set the bar high.

“One of Richard’s hallmarks was to say, ‘We’ve done this — now what?’ ” Rubin says. “He strives for excellence.”

“Now what?” is a good question.

The search for a new Y.U. head was so fraught with tension that it was only in the two days preceding the Dec. 5 vote that the boards of trustees for the university and RIETS appeared ready to back Joel.

Even then, it came only after Joel met with the trustees at length, face to face.

In the end, Y.U. officials arrived at an arrangement that some called surprising: Joel was named president of Yeshiva and chief executive officer of RIETS, while Y.U.’s outgoing president Norman Lamm, a highly regarded Torah scholar, will become rosh yeshiva, or head of RIETS, and university chancellor.

Yeshiva, a top-ranked university with five locations in New York — including RIETS, medical and law schools, affiliated health-care centers and high schools — has become a “variegated” entity, according to Julius Berman, president of the RIETS board and a former president of JTA’s board of directors.

In light of its “complex” character, Berman says, Yeshiva “requires that much more leadership.”

The institution will remain committed to the motto “Torah U’madda” — Torah and science — indicating a synthesis of Jewish and general studies, Berman says.

Joel also has vowed to encourage “a more integral relationship” between different segments of the university, Berman adds.

For example, Joel might invite Lamm or other Torah scholars to lecture at the medical school on cloning and Jewish law, Berman says, or ask a medical school professor to speak at the college.

Exactly how Yeshiva’s new power structure will develop remains to be seen. Berman and others, including Joel himself, say the exact parameters of the roles Joel and Lamm will play still need be defined.

But those who know Joel say he embodies what Yeshiva is about, and is deeply committed to the university’s success.

A former New York assistant district attorney, Joel remains devoted to his wife and six children, reportedly never missing a Shabbat with them.

He also helped found a modern Orthodox congregation, Kemp Mill Synagogue, in his home city of Silver Spring, Md., that today includes 250 families.

Diamond, of Princeton, predicts Joel will “do great things” for Yeshiva, though even his friend is “not the Moshiach,” or Messiah.

“No one is perfect. He moves very fast, he has a clear idea of what he wants and doesn’t want, and he can be very tough,” Diamond says. “But I think that’s going to help him at Yeshiva. To be a university president, you have to be tough.”

©JTA – Joe Berkofsky
Dec 6, 2002 — Yeshiva University has chosen the president of Hillel, the organization for Jewish college students, to be its president starting next June. Richard M. Joel will be the first non-rabbi in the post.

Under a new arrangement, Joel will be chief executive officer of the school’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary while the retiring university president, Rabbi Norman Lamm, continues as seminary Rosh HaYeshiva, supervising the training of Orthodox rabbis. The presidential search took 18 months, partly due to difficulty in finding a president who would continue the 116-year tradition of leadership by an Orthodox rabbi.

Joel was formerly an associate dean and professor at Yeshiva’s law school and an assistant district attorney in New York. He called Yeshiva “the world’s premier Jewish institution of higher learning” and said its philosophy had shaped his own personal and professional life.

Lamm, a major figure in the “modern Orthodox” movement, has been president 26 years and will assume the new post of university chancellor.

Yeshiva’s 17 schools and divisions enroll 6,300 students.

©Associated Press
February 2015
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