Editorial from the Baltimore Jewish Times
When Richard Joel stepped up to the microphone at the Hyatt Regency here on Sunday, Feb. 23, probably only a handful of the 500 people present understood the event's historical significance. This marked the start of the last student conference where Richard Joel would head Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life. After a 15-year tenure as Hillel's head, Mr. Joel sometime this spring will become President of Yeshiva University, modern Orthdoxy's flagship academic institution. And it's worth taking note.
At Hillel, simply put, Mr. Joel continually gave shock therapy to the sleeping giant of American Jewish life, zooming both students and their concerns to the top of American Jewry's fundraising and action agenda. It is no hyperbole to call him one of American Jewry's most important leaders of the 20th century's final years. Today, due to his relentless efforts, Hillel is a prime destination for the top graduates of Jewish professional schools. Under his tenure, Hillel's credo's of "Jewish renaissance" and seeking to "maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews" have become rallying cries for organized Jewry.
YU is likely betting that Mr. Joel can replicate his magic at their institution, one criticized by some in recent years for leaning to a more intolerant right-wing perspective. Indeed, at YU Mr. Joel will have a much tougher task at pushing the respectful Jewish plurality that become a hallmark of his Hillel days. Meanwhile, his predecessor, Rabbi Norman Lamm, will stick around in a high profile position. Rabbi Lamm is kind and gentle, but this will still make the challenge more difficult. Then there's New York City's general intensity and media glare.
Mr. Joel, of course, already has proven his mettle. It's a solid bet to think he will succeed yet again. As he told the students on Sunday, the Talmudic sage Hillel implored his own students to be like Aaron the High Priest, to love peace and to pursue peace. As we all are charged to do so, let us follow Richard Joel's example of excellence.