Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Ambassador of the Jews

Gershon Burstyn

Malcolm Hoenlein's 32-year career representing the interests of the Jewish People and Israel to US presidents, Arab kings, and European prime ministers. An exclusive interview

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

 Mishpacha image

“I’ve always believed that Jews cannot live at the sufferance of others, that we have to control our own fate,” he says. “That means we have to understand the political system. So I tried to get the best degrees possible because I knew the opposition I would face, as a frum Jew, as an activist. But I think that much of my motivation is because of the Shoah. I lost my grandparents on both sides and much of my family. So I know that, being honest with myself, that is a motivation” (Photos: Elchanan Kotler, Meir Haltovsky, Personal archives)

If Malcolm Hoenein were a boxer, he’d be the heavyweight who keeps moving forward, the fighter who doesn’t care how many times you hit him, the guy who bets that you’re going to tire out before he goes down.

Now, three decades after he became executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he’s announced that he’s looking for a successor, someone to take over the day-to-day operations so that he can focus on the big picture. It’s not that he’s slowing down, he insists, it’s just that 18-hour days over 32 years means that he’d now like to shift his focus slightly to do more “external stuff.”

It means, in a nutshell, that Hoenlein will be stepping out of his well-formed role, the place so many of us are used to seeing him. As such, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on his long years of service.

Jewish Power

Malcolm Hoenlein was born in Philadelphia to German-Jewish parents who fled Europe during the war years. His father used a laissez-passer to travel from his native Frankfurt to Switzerland, then on to Holland on the last boat out in 1942. His mother, passing as a gentile, smuggled herself out of Germany into France, then made her way to Cherbourg, where she grabbed a boat for America. His parents, who had originally met in Switzerland when his father went in for an appendectomy (his mother was the operating room nurse) married in Philadelphia.

Hoenlein attended a yeshivah ketanah and then the relatively new Philadelphia yeshivah, where Rav Elya Svei and Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky were big influences.

“Rav Elya and ybdlcht”a Rav Shmuel had a strong impact on me,” Hoenlein told Mishpacha. “I still see Rav Shmuel at simchahs, and it’s always nice. Besides my old Camp Munk friends, he’s the only one who calls me by my real name, Yitzchok.”

Hoenlein went on to Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a PhD in international relations. During that time, he emerged as a student leader who helped to found the North American Union of Jewish Students and later served as the first American leader of the World Union of Jewish Students.

"“The one precondition that HaKadosh Baruch Hu set for every neis that happened to the Jewish People was achdus"

After that, he took a job as the executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry and later the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. In 1986, he joined the Conference. 

Looking back, he says it’s clear that his parents’ wartime experiences had a profound impact on him, a story that would propel him toward a life of public service.

“I’ve always believed that Jews cannot live at the sufferance of others, that we have to control our own fate,” he says. “That means we have to understand the political system. So I tried to get the best degrees possible because I knew the opposition I would face, as a frum Jew, as an activist. But I think that much of my motivation is because of the Shoah. I lost my grandparents on both sides and much of my family. So I know that, being honest with myself, that is a motivation.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 708)

Related Stories

Never Too Late for Happiness

As told to Margie Pensak

How one woman made a second marriage later in life work, along with advice from the pros

Marching to His Own Tune

Shlomi Gil

For Chilik Frank, a virtuoso whose concerts are more like lessons in chassidus, playing around the c...

Off-Duty

Riki Goldstein

Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen, the oldest and highest-ranking British Jewish officer to serve in...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you