Gratz College Names Zev Eleff President


Gratz College will undergo a change and expansion in administration at the beginning of the 2021-’22 academic year, with Zev Eleff becoming president on Sept. 1, and Paul Finkelman, the current president, taking over the newly created chancellor’s position.

The transition within and addition to the college’s administrative team takes place after Gratz experienced a 35% increase in enrollment over the past four years under Finkelman.

“We made the strategic decision that the college was in a position where we felt that we could make goals to expand our network, our reach,” said Kathy Elias, chair of the Board of Governors at Gratz.

Zev Eleff | Courtesy of Zev Eleff

The chancellor’s position allows Finkelman to continue to network and oversee Gratz’s  undergraduate, graduate and adult learning programs, while the president works to engage more with the broader community and prospective students, Jewish and not.

Though the search for Gratz’s new president was announced right before the start of the pandemic in March 2020, it didn’t begin until late summer of last year.

“We were looking for a president who thoroughly understood both the Jewish history and the critical role that Jewish thought has played, in history, and particularly in American history,” Elias said. “As well as a person who is an accomplished administrator of a college or university, as well as a person who is innovative and energetic.”

Eleff fit the bill, Elias said.

Eleff is the chief academic adviser of the Hebrew Theological College, the vice provost of Touro College Illinois, as well as professor of Jewish history at Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

As president, Eleff hopes to synergize the skills from his previous three roles into “the ability to convene different modes of education, to reach various populations and to reach them on their own levels,” he said.

Gratz’s ability to be “nimble,” is what drew Eleff. He touted its ability to have not only a diversity in the degrees and certifications it offers, but also its clear goals in Jewish education and ability to “make meaning” in the lives of its students, as well as to build relationships with outside organizations.

“[Gratz] has the combination of humility, integrity and self-confidence to be able to understand its capacity to partner,” he said. “I’ve seen that whether Gratz partners with donors and stakeholders or with other organizations, Gratz understands that it takes a village. “

During Finkelman’s tenure, he created four new programs, including three master’s programs in interfaith leadership, human rights and camp management, and a doctoral program for Holocaust and genocide studies.

Because Gratz had 90% of its programs online before the pandemic, Finkelman was able to effectively guide the college through its transition to becoming completely remote when COVID-19 restrictions prevented in-person activity.  

“We were able to pivot to being 100% online within two weeks of closing our building,” Finkelman said. 

Finkelman was grateful for the opportunities during his presidency to honor community members and guests, who shaped Gratz’s legacy, with the Gratz Medal and honorary degrees.

Moreover, Finkelman is grateful to have learned more about his community.

“I grew up in a very small town. We were, what I would call, a one-synagogue town,” Finkelman said. “I have gained a much stronger knowledge of the incredible diversity of the American Jewish community.”

As Eleff makes the transition to succeed Finkelman, he’s eager to brave the suburban real estate market and make new roots in Philadelphia and Melrose Park and to begin his time at Gratz.

As Gratz begins its 126th year, Eleff made it clear the value he hopes to maintain as president of Gratz: “the notion that applied Jewish wisdom can and should be for everybody.”

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