JOEL, RICHARD M. (1950– ), U.S. lawyer, educator, administrator, and president of Yeshiva University. Born in New York City in 1950, Joel grew up in a modern Orthodox family in Yonkers, New York, the only child of Avery and Annette Joel. His father had immigrated to Cape Town, South Africa, from Vilna, Lithuania prior to moving to the U.S. Raised in a musical home steeped in Jewish tradition and values, Joel spent a formative year with his parents in South Africa during the 1950s. His father tragically passed away in 1964 a few months after the Bar Mitzvah of his only child.
Joel graduated from Yeshiva University High School (1968), New York University (1972), and New York University Law School (1975). He spent three years as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, prosecuting violent criminal behavior during some of the borough's most challenging years. Joel joined the Yeshiva University (YU) administration full-time beginning in 1978, first as director of Alumni Affairs and then as associate dean and professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. In 1988, Joel interviewed for the top post in *Hillel, the oldest and largest organization in the Jewish world serving college and university students, and received an offer to head the organization, a position traditionally held by experienced Hillel professionals and rabbis.
Joel dramatically transformed Hillel during his 14-year tenure. Articulating a vision of a revitalized Hillel able "to provoke" a Jewish renaissance in America, Joel jettisoned the synagogue on campus model to promote a vision of campus communities supporting a wide range of Jewish organizations and interest groups. He set aside rabbinic ordination as the sine qua non of Hillel employment by expanding and diversifying the ranks of Hillel professionals. He encouraged Hillels to eliminate student membership and dues and championed open-architecture participation over more traditional affiliation models. He inspired Hillels to become less building-centered, even as more and newer buildings opened each year, to connect with Jewish students in multiple campus and community
Following the announced retirement of Yeshiva University President Rabbi Norman Lamm, the YU Board of Trustees, unable to find a suitable rabbinic candidate to replace Lamm, became deeply interested in Joel.
Inaugurated as the fourth president of Yeshiva University in 2003, Joel would break new ground – though not without some initial opposition – in becoming the first non-rabbinic-scholar to head Yeshiva University in its 117-year-history.