Adam Lehman, interim CEO of Hillel International, said it’s possible he will apply for the permanent post vacated by Eric Fingerhut.
“I want to do what’s best for this organization,” Lehman told the Cleveland Jewish News on July 9. “We have a robust search process.”
He said he has tried to bring business strategy and best practices to Jewish organizational life.
He said if it makes sense to the organization for him to apply for the permanent post, he will.
“My first focus, and really my total focus, is being the best leader I can at this point in time,” he said.
The Cleveland native and Shaker Heights High School graduate has deep roots in Cleveland – and public service. His grandfather was Judge Manny Rocker, his father, U.S. Rep. Harry Lehman. His mother is Linda Rocker Silverberg, who was a Cuyahoga County judge.
Lehman, 52, thought he would go into public service when he headed to Dartmouth College in Lebanon, N.H., and at Harvard Law School. When he chose Dartmouth, he did not think much about Hillel, but found himself turning to Rabbi Michael Paley after the death of his grandmother Harriet Rocker during college.
“It really created a gateway for me to get involved in Hillel as a student,” he said. “I really had a sense for both (the role) Hillel can play for students and the way it can meaningfully change lives.”
Lehman’s top three goals include engaging more students than ever at Hillel’s 550 campuses in 18 countries: 140,000 Jewish students, to be exact.
“We still probably have about 20,000 students to grow by,” he said. “It’s important that we have numbers in mind.”
But the most important part of the Hillel experience – and Lehman’s second goal -- may not have to do with a quantifiable statistic. The second goal, he said, is to strengthen the movement.
“Ultimately, it’s about changing their hearts,” he said, adding he intends to keep “students at the center of our work.”
The third goal entails fundraising. Lehman said, it is to “continue to build on our success in terms of resource development.”
Lehman is looking ahead to 2023, Hillel’s centennial year, with a centennial campaign.
“I believe in positivity,” Lehman said in describing his leadership style. “I believe we’re all on an amazing journey and path.”
“I believe in innovation,” he said.
Lehman said Hillel’s strategy toward fighting the boycott divestment and sanctions movement, which would delegitimize Israel, is through “a really robust set of Israel-related programs.”
He said, Hillel, more than any other Jewish organization, is aware of anti-Semitism on college campuses.
“We feel the issues when it comes to anti-Semitism,” he said, adding that Hillel attempts to play “leadership roles, building relationships across campus (to create a) protective and safe environment for Jewish students to be able to be Jewish. It’s a high priority for us.”
A parent of two daughters, Lehman said he belongs to Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, Md., a modern Orthodox congregation.
“We’re post-denominational as a family,” he said.
Lehman lives with his wife, Belinda Krifcher, in Potomac, Md. Their two daughters are both in college: Dahlia is a rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis. Jessica, 18, will begin as a freshman at Tulane University in New Orleans in the fall.