Cincinnati’s David Frankel Becomes COO of Orthodox Union in New Role of Serving the Jewish People

06 Apr 2009

David Frankel remembers when he first came to appreciate the importance of Jewish communal service and civic mindedness. “My parents frequently had conversations around the dinner table that focused on the many innovations my father, Max Frankel, brought to Jewish life in Cincinnati during his 25 year tenure as the Executive Director of Cincinnati’s Bureau of Jewish Education.”

Frankel continues, “My parents have always been consummate role models whose words and actions nurtured the love my brothers and I share for Torah, ritual, and a life committed to service of the Jewish people.”

Frankel has certainly followed in his parents’ footsteps. After working with the Ohio State University Hillel, Cleveland Hillel, and 12 years as a senior professional with UJA-Federation of New York, in 2005 he assumed the position of Associate International Director of NCSY, the international youth organization of the Orthodox Union. Just four years later, he is set to graduate from NCSY to one of the Orthodox Union’s most senior professional posts as the Chief Operating Officer.

OU president Stephen J. Savitsky, declared, “David has done an outstanding job at NCSY and has demonstrated to us his excellence as a manager and administrator. We wish David the very best in his new position and are confident his leadership will help propel the Orthodox Union to even greater heights.”

Frankel credits much of who he is to his high school experience at Cincinnati’s famed School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), from which Rocky Carroll, Sarah Jessica Parker, Carmen Electra, and a host of celebrities have graduated. “Reflecting on the past twenty years, one person I wished I had thanked years ago is my eighth-grade English teacher from Yavneh Day School, Mrs. Sharon Faust,” recalls Frankel. “After attending Yavneh for nine years, Mrs. Faust was the first to notice my special interest in the arts, and recommended to my parents that I apply to attend SCPA instead of Walnut Hills High School.”

That simple recommendation changed his high-school trajectory and so much more. Frankel credits SCPA for helping him find his inner voice and the self-confidence he needed to excel in work and life. “Mrs. Faust made that happen,” says Frankel resolutely.

Hello, Columbus:

Rather than pursue his artistic inclinations, Frankel graduated from SCPA in 1985 and opted to attend a more conventional liberal arts program with 62,000 other young people at the country’s most heavily populated campus. “Nothing at Yavneh or SCPA prepared me for the gargantuan size of Ohio State,” says Frankel. There were seven and 121 kids respectively in my graduating classes from Yavneh and SCPA. I easily had five times as many classmates in each of my 101 courses at OSU.” Frankel’s choice to attend Ohio State was largely influenced by the Hillel scene led by the dynamic Rabbi Howie Alpert. In the early years of undergraduate life, Frankel’s professional ambitions ranged from orthodontics to industrial design to advertising. “To be perfectly honest, my career ended up choosing me,” he says. “When I was a freshman, I was quickly recruited to volunteer for OSU Hillel’s student-led Jewish Student Activities Board and was put in charge of planning social events and outreach activities targeting Jewish dorm dwellers.”

In his junior year, he won the vice presidency of the student board and, after the president resigned midway through the year, Frankel assumed the top student leadership post. “In the midst of directing a dozen student-run committees, planning programs and organizing various events, I came to realize that I loved what I was doing.” When, as a senior, Frankel was tapped by Rabbi Alpert’s successor, Rabbi Steven Abrams, to assume a paid position as OSU Hillel’s Director of Student Outreach, Frankel marveled that he could get paid to do something he so thoroughly enjoyed. That realization came with an awareness that Rabbi Abrams as a friend and mentor helped inspire Frankel to pursue a life of service to the Jewish people. “My love for Judaism was incubated by my parents but cemented by Rabbi Abrams during our days together at Hillel,” Frankel states. Years later, Frankel noted, Rabbi Abrams co-officiated at his wedding.

On to Cleveland:

Upon his graduation from Ohio State University in 1990, Frankel left the safe embrace of OSU campus life and took a job as Director of the Undergraduate Programming with Cleveland Hillel. “The appeal of the job was simple, noted Frankel, “I was able to extend all the fun of my undergraduate experience while beginning my professional career,”

With his ambitions locked on becoming an Executive Director of a Hillel, Frankel understood that he would have to acquire an advanced degree or semicha (ordination) if he was to have a shot one day at running his own Hillel operation. In pursuit of his dream, Frankel applied and was the grateful recipient of a highly coveted fellowship sponsored by the Council of Jewish Federations (predecessor of the United Jewish Communities). Known as the FEREP Fellowship, recipients had their master’s degrees “comped” at a select list of Jewish communal graduate programs in exchange for committing to at least three years of service as a Federation executive. With the Fellowship in hand, Frankel left Ohio and headed to New York in 1992, earned his dual Master’s Degrees in Jewish Studies and Social Work from Columbia University in 1994, and joined the staff at UJA-Federation of New York after graduation. And so Frankel went on to a career with Federation rather than Hillel.

I Love New York:

As is his nature, Frankel went above and beyond the call of duty and tirelessly worked for UJA-Federation of New York for 12 years, where he held a variety of management positions. From 1999-2005, Frankel worked as the Director of the Young Leadership Division (YLD), in recognition of his talent for inspiring young professionals to support the local and overseas agenda of UJA-Federation. As YLD Director, Frankel planned and facilitated missions to Israel, Cuba, Hungary, and Ukraine, among others, and supervised a staff that regularly organized events that attracted hundreds of young professionals. He also helped raise $3.5 million annually from young New York professionals in support of UJA-Federation.

In his 12th year with UJA-Federation, a colleague of Frankel’s mentioned that she had recently met Rabbi Steven Burg, NCSY International Director. “She thought we’d hit it off and she was so right. Within a few days of meeting Rabbi Burg, he offered me the opportunity to partner with him as his Associate International Director. Working with Rabbi Burg and on behalf of NCSY’s 35,000 teens has been a dream come true. In so many ways it takes me back to my early days with Hillel.”

After four years as the Associate International Director of NCSY, ably supervising NCSY’s 12 Regions across North America, and an international presence in Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires; Kharkov, Ukraine; and 14 cities in Israel; planning training conferences for hundreds of NCSY professionals and volunteers; administering the NCSY payroll; providing support and guidance to members of NCSY’s senior staff; and countless other responsibilities that require near 24/6 on-call attention, executive officials at the OU consider Frankel more than ready to take on the responsibilities as their Chief Operating Officer.

Frankel declares, “Perhaps the greatest difference between my new position as COO of the OU and my former position with NCSY is the scope of the assignment. Now, in addition to concerning myself with the administrative oversight of the OU’s famed NCSY program for teens, I am also servicing the OU’s broader agenda by lending my experience in support of the organization’s other successful initiatives.”

Frankel’s wife, Cindy (nee Barbalatt), is also civic-minded and has in common with her husband a degree in social work. The couple lives in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, New York with their three daughters: Shayna Laya, 9, Shira, 7, and Miriam, 5. All are proud of their lone man in the house, and Frankel’s parents back home in Cincinnati are shepping nachas (taking pride) in celebration of this most recent chapter in the life of their youngest son.