The next executive director and CEO of the Hillel Jewish University Center will be a familiar face to Jewish Pittsburgh.
The Hillel JUC board of governors has named Dan Marcus, currently the chief executive of the Union of Jewish Students in Great Britain, to the position.
He succeeds Aaron Weil who is leaving Pittsburgh this summer to become executive director of the Hillel at the University of Central Florida.
“We initiated an international search for an executive director and CEO who reflects the ideals of the Hillel JUC of Pittsburgh and brings a demonstrated capacity to build on our existing strengths while possessing the vision to bring this Hillel to even greater heights,” David Kalson, chair of the board of governors, said in a prepared statement announcing the hiring. “In selecting Dan Marcus, we are confident that we have achieved our goal.”
Marcus is no stranger to Jewish Pittsburgh. He came to the city in 2001 to be the Hillel JUC’s programming director for Carnegie Mellon University. He then became assistant director under Weil in 2003 — a job he held until 2006 when he left to become executive director of the Hillel at Johns Hopkins University
Marcus, who is British, has been in his current position since 2007.
In a phone interview from his home in London, Marcus told the Chronicle his work, while challenging, leaves little time for the aspects of the job he loves most.
It’s dealing with spaces and buildings and facilities and student welfare … fundraising and other responsibilities,” Marcus said. “But the part I miss is the ability to create student communities and to empower students to find meaning and value in their Jewish identity. Those are things with which I don’t have a direct involvement in the U.K.
“I also deal with multiple campuses across England, so I’m not involved in any one community, and that’s something I really miss,” he continued. “So when the opportunity arose to succeed Aaron, it was just an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Marcus also said his “affection and connection to Pittsburgh is deep,” making the decision to return a natural one.
“Hillel JUC is hugely important to me. To build on the successes that Aaron and Hillel and Jewish Federation have engendered overt the last 10 years and take it on the next phase of its journey is an exciting and rewarding opportunity.”
Weil, in a statement to the Chronicle, said Marcus’ experience in Pittsburgh and at Hillel JUC will be an asset when he takes over this summer.
“Having Dan Marcus return to the Hillel JUC is really completing a circle that began a decade ago when Dan was our assistant director,” Weil said. “Dan was not just the No. 2 in our organization, he was my most trusted thought partner, strategist and co-visionary in where we wanted to take this agency. We complemented one another and now with all the experience that Dan has gathered during his time with other Hillels, he is now the complete package and able to take this organization to heights that none of us can even imagine today.
“For Dan, Hillel is holy work,” Weil added, “and it is a testament to the strength of our Hillel and our community that we are able to attract someone with Dan’s capabilities.”
As chief executive of the Union of Jewish Students, a Hillel-affiliated organization and the largest Jewish campus-based organization in Great Britain, Marcus oversaw the £3 million ($4.6 million) sale and move from the historic home of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation as well as successfully stewarding an £800,000 ($1.2 million) legacy from B’nai B’rith UK to benefit Jewish student life.
He also initiated a Jewish identity survey to gauge the level and diversity of Jewish identity among British students, and hopes to perform the same type of study on Pittsburgh campuses.
“My instinct told me Jewish college students are interested in their Jewish identity, but they may appreciate it in a different context than in previous generations,” Marcus said. “We want to understand what it is that motivates, what it is that excites and what it is that connects students to their [Jewish identity] … and then how do we configure our resources and activities and program and leadership training to fit those needs. It always comes down to the same thing, how do we empower students and JBurghers to meet their identity.”
Marcus also addressed anti-Israel activity on college campuses in Great Britain, especially as it relates to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) movement.
“It’s something that we deal with here,” he said. He said he has worked to build “coalitions” with different groups opposed to academic boycotts of Israel while bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish students “who appreciate diversity and wealth of contributions Israel brings to wider society.”
But he also noted the importance of strongly defending Israel in the face of such threats.
“It is also incumbent upon us to stand up in a loud and proud way to shine a light on the detrimental effects boycott has in an academic setting. In many ways, it is anathema to boycott and divest; it goes against the grain of academic freedom.”
Marcus, his wife Debbie, and their three children, Benjamin, Natan and Eliora, will be moving to Squirrel Hill this summer.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)