To steer the university through an unexpected leadership change induced by debate over antisemitism, the board of the University of Pennsylvania turned to their vice chair — who is also one of the most prominent Jewish communal leaders in the country.
Julie Beren Platt, a 1979 Penn graduate, has been on the Penn board of trustees since 2006 and recently started her second stint as vice chair, making her a natural fit to step up when chair Scott Bok resigned from the management body on Saturday, following the resignation of the university’s president, Liz Magill.
Platt is also the chair of Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella of 146 local Jewish communal bodies that has collected more than $700 million — and allocated more than $240 — to drive the American Jewish philanthropic response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Platt cited that commitment in emphasizing that her leadership of Penn’s board would last for a short period: She said she will step down in January when a permanent chair is selected.
Platt’s dual roles mean that she has been on the front lines in two of the most prominent organizations reshaped by the Oct. 7 attack and its aftermath. It also suggests, as she acknowledged in a statement, that even the presence of a seasoned Jewish leader in a senior university board position is not sufficient to address antisemitism on college campuses right now.
“I have worked hard from the inside to address the rising issues of antisemitism on campus. Unfortunately, we have not made all the progress that we should have and intend to accomplish,” Platt said in a statement issued by JFNA, adding, “I will continue as a board member of the university to use my knowledge and experience of Jewish life in North America and at Penn to accelerate this critical work.”
A JFNA spokesperson declined to elaborate on how she will balance the two roles.
Platt, 66, is the daughter of Robert Beren, the Kansas City oil magnate and Jewish philanthropist who died in August at 97. She is also the mother of five children — four of them Penn graduates — including the Broadway actor Ben Platt and Jonah Platt, a musician who also sits on the board of 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company.
Previously the chair of the Los Angeles federation and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Platt also chairs a foundation named for her and her husband, Hollywood producer Marc Platt, and has been involved in an array of Jewish educational initiatives.
She became the second woman to helm JFNA’s board last year, assuming leadership of the fundraising organization at a crucial time. The organization has distributed hundreds of millions to groups providing emergency aid in Israel since Oct. 7. The group has also supported local Jewish communities in the United States in strengthening their own response to antisemitism through an initiative, LiveSecure, created in 2021, that Platt was instrumental in launching.
“We are leading the largest mobilization in our history in support of Israel’s right to protect its citizens and against the rise of antisemitism in North America, including staging the largest Jewish rally in American history on the National Mall,” Platt said in her statement. “We will continue this fight with all our energy.”
Penn was already grappling with a crisis related to antisemitism in the weeks prior to Oct. 7, as a festival featuring Palestinian writers drew criticism. Platt and Bok had issued a statement of confidence in Liz Magill, Penn’s president, in the wake of that crisis and in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, even as some criticized the school’s initially response as tepid.
But last week, Magill was one of three college presidents who declined during a congressional hearing to say that the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ codes of conduct. Her testimony drew criticism from Pennsylvania’s Jewish governor, Josh Shapiro, and even the White House.
Platt said in a statement that she believed Magill had fallen short in the hearing. “In my view, given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, the three university presidents testifying in the United States House of Representatives failed,” she said. “The leadership change at the university was therefore necessary and appropriate.”