The announcement that Wayne Firestone is stepping down as president and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life next spring has set off a flurry of speculation as to why the 48-year-old professional would leave the top post he has held since 2006.
There appears to be no dramatic single answer, but based on conversations with a number of insiders at, or familiar with, the international organization (most of whom insisted on anonymity), it seems that the move was somewhere between voluntary and encouraged. And it underscored the strains and pressures involved in moving Hillel forward with a steep budget deficit, which has persisted for five straight years. The shakeup also comes at a time when about half of those who identify as Jewish on college campuses have a parent not born Jewish, and when many students are uninterested in engaging in Jewish life.
Given that reality, Firestone is widely credited for holding the line and instituting several major initiatives, including a new five-year program he advocated that involves paying students who are little involved in Jewish life on campus to reach out and engage other students with little involvement in Jewish life.
Some campus directors opposed the idea of paying students to attract other students, but advocates said the plan fits the times with a strategy that emphasizes personal relationship-building rather than in-house programming.
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