William C. “Billy” Rudolph is making some history.
His recent election to be the next chairman of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh makes him the first Lubavitch Jew to hold that position, and, quite possibly, the first to hold it at any North American Jewish federation.
To Rudolph, who sees his new job partly as a community bridge builder, his selection is hardly an insignificant fact.
“I’m very proud of it,” he told The Chronicle. “It shows a real sensitivity at the federation that 10 years ago would not be the case. I think it’s true progress.
“I really see myself as someone who’s always been involved, in the years I’ve been in the community,” he continued. “I’ve been concerned and active in building bridges, and that will definitely be one of my responsibilities in this position. That’s one thing I bring to this table; another thing is I love this community.”
The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of North American federations, is checking to see if any other Lubavitch Jew has ever served as a chairman, but a UJC spokesman has already said he knows of none.
Rudolph was nominated last week by the UJF’s nominating committee to succeed outgoing chair Daniel Shapira. He will be formally elected at the Sept. 30 annual meeting.
“I’ve worked closely with Bill for many years and his contributions to the Jewish community have been unparalleled. I’m very pleased he will be my successor,” Shapira said in a prepared statement.
Among Rudolph’s highest priorities over the next two years will be Jewish education, but he said he recognizes other critical issues for the community.
Among those issues are Israel experiences for young people, the camping experience and more broadly, Jewish continuity.
“My strong interest over these last years has been Jewish education,” Rudolph said, “but I understand in order to involve the entire community and to really push the agenda of Jewish continuity we have to look at other areas.
“The federation, as you know, is really just about the No. 1 federation in the country today,” he added, “and not just in fundraising but in so many ways in the community. To take over such an organization is a tremendous honor and a tremendous responsibility at the same time.”
Returning to Jewish continuity, Rudolph said the community faces a great challenge in keeping its next generation Jewish as well.
“It’s more difficult to keep our children and grandchildren Jewish,” he said. “We have to make sure our community is positioned to do everything we can to enable our Jewish families to have opportunities for their children and grandchildren to connect Jewishly and be excited about wanting to live and be committed to a Jewish life.”
Rudolph has spent 35 years actively involved with the UJF, and other Jewish community institutions. He is currently vice chair of the UJF where he also serves on its administrative and personnel committees. He has served as the development chair, chair of the UJF Annual Campaign and chair of central services, which oversees the entire financial and accounting operations of the federation.
He is a past recipient of the William and Olga Stark Young Leadership Award.
Rudolph is a principal in McKnight Realty Partners, which acquires and develops commercial real estate. He is also a partner and board member of Rita’s with his brother, James. Rudolph is also on the board of directors of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.
Rudolph, who is married to children’s book author Lieba Rudolph, is the third member of his family to serve as the UJF chair. His father, Leonard, and his brother, James, previously held the position.
Rudolph credits his father for his interest in working for Jewish Pittsburgh. “A lot of my love for the community came from my father,” he said.
One task he takes special pride in is his work with Friendship Circle, which strives to integrate special needs children into the broader community. Rudolph serves on the board and executive committee of Friendship Circle, which is directed by his son, Rabbi Mordy Rudolph.
“There’s an example that really helps a special [group] of our community,” he said. “It’s something of special interest for me and something I have great concern for.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)