Meet Hillel International’s New Board Chair,
Lee Dranikoff



July 5, 2023

On July 1, 2023, Lee Dranikoff assumed the role of Chair of Hillel International’s Board of Directors, a position he will hold for the next three years. We sat down with Lee days before he officially took on this new role to speak with him about his own Jewish journey, how he got connected to Hillel, and what he hopes to achieve as Board Chair. 

Q: First, Lee, tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, not far from where I live now. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. and M.A. in Economics, and graduated with a J.D.  from Harvard Law School. I am also the founder of Practical Strategy, a boutique consulting firm primarily working with private equity firms and their portfolio companies. Prior to that, I was a Managing Director at American Securities, a private equity firm based in New York, and I started my business career at McKinsey &. Co., after spending a few years as an attorney. 

In addition to my work with Hillel, I am the Chair of the Board of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and serve on the Advisory Board of Itrek. Earlier in my Jewish journey, I co-founded Brand Israel Group and helped draft the initial strategy for the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC). 

Q: Tell us about your Jewish journey.

A:  Like a lot of my friends growing up, I went to Hebrew School until my Bar Mitzvah and then stopped going. My parents were committed Zionists and actively involved with the Jewish Federation but when I went to college my understanding of Judaism and Israel wasn’t strong.  This was fine in Livingston which was at the time a very Jewish town.  But it turned out to be an issue for me at college.  During my first year at Johns Hopkins University, I made a number of lifelong friends but I also faced somewhat regular anti-Israel and antisemitic activity.  I actually lived next door to someone who had a Yasser Arafat poster on their dorm room wall.  It was a tough first year and I felt somewhat isolated at first. Even though there wasn’t a Hillel at the time (Johns Hopkins Hillel was founded shortly thereafter) there was a Jewish center and I became involved with AIPAC on campus.  Once I connected with other Jewish students and became an AIPAC liaison, I realized that I wasn’t actually alone.

After undergrad, I attended Harvard Law School and then, as an early career professional, I realized I was missing the type of Jewish life I had experienced while in college.  At the time I was working for McKinsey & Co., traveling and working long hours.  But, I wanted to be involved in the Jewish world so I picked a few topics that I found interesting and thought would allow me to reconnect with my Jewish identity. First, I co-founded Brand Israel Group, with Ido Aharoni and some other high-profile leaders. We worked with the Foreign Ministry to build a brand for the country that inspired a long-term emotional connection to the Jewish State. I also created the first strategic plan for the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC). It was through ICC’s first CEO, Wayne Firestone (who eventually served as President and CEO of Hillel International), that I made my way to Hillel. 

Q: What drew you to this position? 

A: I’m motivated by the potential for Hillel to change the entire Jewish world. We have the opportunity to impact nearly all Jewish students at a formative time in their life.  And 100 years in, Hillel is at an incredible position in its history. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve overcome so many hurdles to get where we are today. We have strong relationships with the campus Hillels, with our supporters, and with our students. I consider myself a “strategy guy” and a lot of strategy is about deciding where to go next. I’m honored to be in this position at this moment in our history. 

Q: What do you want to achieve as Board chair?

A: I am still learning about my role and the organization and my priorities are evolving but there are four areas I can highlight for now: 

Q: What are you most proud of about where Hillel is now in its 100th year?A:  I have always believed that Hillel is the greatest asset in the Jewish community and that has never been more true than today. We have presence with professionals, lay leaders and buildings on almost every campus where Jews attend college.  Our engagement methodologies are on the cutting edge of how to sustain the Jewish future.  We are the talent pipeline of the Jewish professional sector and have one of the largest alumni networks of any Jewish organization.  We are privileged to have financial donors who support our mission. And we are just getting started.  As our CEO Adam likes to say, “Hillel is a 100 year old start-up.”

Q: Where would you like to see Hillel in the next 100 years? 

A:  We will continue to ensure the future of the Jewish people by engaging them during the formative years of college and grad school.  I also hope that the approaches and relationships that we foster at Hillel can be the engine of a thriving Jewish people, starting in college and extending into adulthood. 

Q: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the Hillel movement?

A: Our world is so polarized, and Hillel is not immune to that. We have to make sure that the polarization doesn’t impact our work. It’s crucial that we stay together as a movement. 

Q: What strategies or initiatives would you implement to strengthen Hillel’s relationship with local Jewish communities? 

A: I am planning to launch a Board committee that is focused on building relationships with other Jewish organizations so we can foster collaboration and tell the Hillel story. I also want to invest in more bridge programs connecting high school students to Hillel and college students to alumni opportunities to make sure that students are getting connected to the right opportunities, both before they enter campus and after they graduate. 

Q: What advice would you give to current and future students?

A: Once you graduate from college, all of the opportunities you found in college, the clubs, activities and yes, Jewish life are available to you. But unlike college, you will need to be proactive about being involved with them.  If you ask me how I became the Chair of the Hillel International Board, I will tell you it’s because in my late 20s I volunteered to help a Jewish organization and the rest just happened.  It takes a little bit of proactive effort but all of you can do it.