Zev Eleff goes from Charm City to Gratz College

Zev Eleff will start a new position as the president of Gratz College in the fall. (Courtesy of Zev Eleff)
Zev Eleff will start a new position as the president of Gratz College in the fall. (Courtesy of Zev Eleff)

This is not the first time that Rabbi Zev Eleff has been featured in the Baltimore Jewish Times. He made an appearance for his bar mitzvah. Eleff, 36, has come a long way since.

Eleff is the chief academic officer of Hebrew Theological College and vice provost of Touro College Illinois. He is also a professor of Jewish history at Touro College’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies as well as a member of the academic council of the American Jewish Historical Society. In addition, he is the author of six books and over 50 scholarly articles in his field, American Jewish history. The most recent of his published works is titled “Authentically Orthodox,” which was published last year.

He is looking forward to starting a new position as the president of Gratz College, a Jewish studies college outside of Philadelphia. Gratz offers programs in Holocaust and genocide studies, nonprofit management, camp administration and leadership and more. Eleff will be taking over for current president Paul Finkelman in the fall for the 2021-2022 academic year. Finkelman will transition to a newly created chancellor position at Gratz.

Eleff was born in Philadelphia, but one year later, when his father received a new position at Johns Hopkins, the family moved to the Baltimore area. In Pikesville, his mother and father became part of a group of parents who founded Yeshivat Rambam Maimonides Academy.

“I went there ‘till ninth grade and it was an extraordinary experience,” Eleff said. “A lot of who I am today is because of Rambam.”

At 14, Eleff and his family moved to Chicago where he currently resides.

After completing high school, Eleff studied in Israel, went to Yeshiva University for his rabbinical ordination, obtained a master’s degree at Columbia University and received a Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

Eleff describes himself as a Modern Orthodox Jew.

In 2016, he published a book called “Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History,” which details the Orthodox encounter with American Judaism that led to the start of Modern Orthodoxy.

“My faith is enforced by the community that reared me, which is the Modern Orthodox community,” Eleff said.

Eleff believes that Modern Orthodoxy brings all types of Jewish people together. He says that it is important to respect everyone, no matter what community they are a part of.

Even after all he has accomplished since he moved away as a teenager, Eleff says Baltimore helped ignite his passion.

“Baltimore is called the Charm City, but I would say I lived in Baltimore during a charmed time,” Eleff said.

During his years in Baltimore, Eleff witnessed different kinds of Jews sit down together to discuss community at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim. He remembers taking karate at Torah Dojo with Jewish children from across the community.

And, of course, having grown up in Baltimore, Eleff loves Maryland sports.

“I bleed purple,” said Eleff, a lifelong Baltimore Ravens fan. “Even my son Jack thinks he was named after Lamar Jackson.”

One of the things that intrigued Eleff about Gratz College was their Holocaust and genocide studies program. Most of the students in this program are not Jewish; however, they are significantly interested in the history of the Holocaust. Hearing from some of these students was moving for Eleff.

“They talked about the importance of bringing the lessons of the Holocaust to their own communities,” Eleff said. “I am not a crier, but that brought me to tears.”

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