BU Hillel’s New Executive Director Follows His Dream
Jevin Eagle forsook big business for rabbinical school
There is no Easy Button for becoming a rabbi.
“It’s a very rigorous program,” says former Staples vice president Jevin Eagle, the new executive director of Boston University Hillel. “People say it has the schedule of a yeshiva, but the papers and exams of graduate school.”
Eagle has a Harvard MBA and a résumé featuring high-level posts at Staples (where he was among those behind the easy brand strategy), McKinsey & Company, and DavidsTea. But for the last three years, his days have been consumed not with spreadsheets or marketing campaigns, but with Talmud, Torah, and Tanakh. In 2014, his ever-deepening commitment to Judaism led him to immerse himself in study at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, Mass.
“I wake up in the morning and say, I can’t believe that the mission for the day is to learn Torah and to pray,” Eagle says. “I can’t believe how lucky I am, and that I can still provide for my family. It’s a blessing.”
Eagle grew up in in Roslyn, N.Y., in a family he describes as “moderately involved” in their Reform synagogue. He became more active as an undergraduate at Dartmouth, where he majored in religion and government and found a spiritual home in Hillel. He was Dartmouth Hillel president, a post one of his two daughters now holds. At 21, he dreamed of becoming a rabbi, but went into business instead. He helped found Jewish Lights Publishing before attending Harvard Business School. There, he was a leader of the Jewish Students Association.
During a decade at Staples, Eagle interviewed for a senior position at Hillel International; he ended up not taking the job, but it got him thinking. One of the interviewers asked what he did for Jewish learning, and he found his own answer—about the boards he served on and the Jewish charities he supported—to be underwhelming. So he found a teacher, and for 10 years they met most every week, early in the morning, first at Starbucks and then at Panera, eventually achieving the goal he was working towards: the ability to read rabbinic Hebrew in the original.
When he was leaving his position as CEO of DavidsTea, his most recent job, and looking for what he calls his next journey, Eagle realized he could afford a major career change. Now a member of a Conservative synagogue, he says that “then the most important question was, where do you get the most joy? By far the most joy I get is Jewish learning. So I realized the new mission statement for Jevin is to make a difference for the Jewish people through Torah.” That meant following his long-filed-away dream of becoming a rabbi.
Eagle started the job at BU Hillel still facing two years of rabbinical school before being ordained and receiving a master’s in Jewish education. But the job will also function as his required internship, and he is confident that his long corporate experience shows he can handle both successfully. “The timing is not exactly what I would have picked,” he says. “But does God give us every opportunity we want at exactly the right time?”
The nonprofit Hillel International: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is the largest Jewish student organization in the world, with a presence at more than 550 colleges and universities, challenging students to explore and expand their Jewish life. “I view it as a privilege, a holy undertaking that our students are given into our care to help them grow, to help them find meaning,” Eagle says.
The BU Hillel board hired Eagle as a permanent replacement for David Raphael, a Hillel International veteran who was brought in a couple of years ago to drive a reinvention of the institution. Back then BU Hillel had been slow to adapt to changing student priorities, including diversity, and faced sparse attendance at some events at the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House. But since then, it’s become a site of more active student engagement, with a calendar that encompasses Hillel’s charity-focused fundraising events, volunteering at homeless shelters and local schools, Latkepalooza celebrations, free yoga, Challah for Hunger drives, Israel Independence Day celebrations, and active partnerships with Marsh Chapel and BU’s Disability Services.
Eagle is eager for the challenge of continuing the momentum. “The thing I’m most excited about is learning with, spending time with, praying with students,” he says, and it’s why he came here.
And while this could be a difficult time to lead a campus Hillel, with heated differences among students over the Palestinian issue and an alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, Eagle maintains that there are “many wonderful things” to be happy about today, with long-term trends of prosperity, creativity, and influence for the Jewish people in Israel and America.
“I personally think the biggest issue we face, for our nation and for the Jewish people, is that we need to better learn how to listen to one another,” he says. “To each other, and to the other. That doesn’t mean agreeing, but it means learning how to listen.”
A new campus rabbi is joining BU Hillel at the same time. Chosen by Eagle, Elie Lehmann will be ordained by Hebrew College in June. The Florida native, who had been serving as rabbinic fellow at Tufts University Hillel, is not affiliated with Reform or Conservative movements, he says, but calls himself “a traditional Jew” who finds “deep Torah and comfort in lots of different communities.” He and Eagle got to know each other at rabbinical school and have worked together well on a few projects, making the partnership a natural progression.
“Jevin and Elie will be leading by example, showing our students that there are many ways to pursue a Jewish life,” says Sidney Pertnoy, chair of BU Hillel’s board of directors, “We look forward to watching them engage and excite Jewish students at BU.”
Eagle and Lehmann started work May 22, and like the focused corporate executive he had been, Eagle has already set clear priorities: building his team and processes, rejuvenating and energizing prayer life at BU Hillel, expanding the number of students who go on Birthright trips to Israel, and expanding both the quantity and the quality of pastoral interactions between staff and students. And over the summer, those staff and students will work together to write a strategic plan and value statement and “at least begin to articulate the really big ideas that are going to set an example here for Hillels everywhere,” Eagle says.
“I think the kind of executive director I want to be, and will be, will be very different than if I hadn’t gone to rabbinical school,” he says. “Ultimately we need Torah to be part of everything we do here.”
This is a brilliant choice. These two kind and unique individuals will do much for BU Hillel. I am so proud to see this new era begin for this organization that did so much for me during my time at BU.
Congratulations, Jevin! I know this is something you have worked towards & contemplated for decades – perseverance is powerful. Keep dreaming!
Love to you & yours