After eight months as interim executive director, Ollie Benn has been named executive director of San Francisco Hillel, overseeing San Francisco State University and several other local campuses.
The British-born Benn joined Hillel’s board three years ago through participation in Fed Fellows, a leadership development program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
Benn said during his time there, Hillel has formed “a really stable foundation at S.F. State and done a nice job building bridges across campuses, with administrations, Jewish studies departments and all kinds of students, Jewish and non-Jewish. The big area of opportunity for us is expanding to other campuses across the city where there is little or no Jewish life whatsoever.”
According to its website, San Francisco Hillel serves University of San Francisco, City College of San Francisco, Academy of Art University, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, U.C. Hastings, Golden Gate University, California College of the Arts and California Culinary Academy. It also serves two community colleges: Skyline College in San Bruno and College of San Mateo.
“How we get Jewish life going on these campuses is a big focus for us now,” Benn noted. “We did a series of events at Hastings, starting with a bagels and lox lunch, and through that several Jewish students met and decided to do Shabbat on their own.”
In terms of anti-Israel activity on campus, Benn said Hillel will continue to fight back. “We have a pool of Hillel student leaders who do a wonderful job of being ambassadors on campus,” Benn said. “We also have I-Team, our Israel team, and they advocate very effectively on behalf of Israel.”
Benn is based at the Hillel house located about two blocks from the San Francisco State campus.
Benn also serves on the Jewish Community Relations Council’s metropolitan council. He formerly worked as an attorney, specializing in tech issues, before founding and running Firefly Health Innovations, a medical devices startup focused on developing and commercializing new dental diagnostic products. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and U.C. Hastings, he has a blog about communications strategies titled “Kosher Bacon,” although he hasn’t posted to it in more than a year.
Benn said he walked away from a successful law practice because “I was spending nights and weekends on some of the causes I loved, and slowly it dawned on me that people could make careers out of the things they were passionate about and make a huge difference at the same time.”
In announcing the hiring, Brett Goldstein, board president of San Francisco Hillel, noted that Benn was selected after an “intensive, four-month national search conducted in partnership with students, alumni, Hillel International and community partners including university faculty and administrators.”