Holocaust Museum names new executive director

<p>Susan L. Abrams  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media</p>

Susan L. Abrams  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media

The chief operating officer of JCC Chicago will become the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s second executive director, the museum announced last week.

Susan Abrams, who has 25 years of experience in nonprofit, museum and financial management experience, will succeed Richard Hirschhaut, who announced his retirement late last year.

“Susan’s breadth of professional experience and passion for education make her the right person to lead the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center into its next decade of growth,” said J.B. Pritzker, chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees.

Abrams’ official title in her role with the museum will be chief executive officer.

JCC Chicago has multiple facilities around Chicago, including the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center in Skokie, It offers a mix of formal and informal educational, recreational and cultural activities for individuals, families and the community at large.

“We looked for someone with experience leading large nonprofits, with development and financial expertise,” Pritzker said. “Susan is a blend of those characteristics mixed with compassion for the survivors. She is a proven strong manager and administrator, and she shares the museum’s mission and vision.”

As chief operating officer of JCC Chicago since 2011, Abrams, 49, comes to the Skokie museum having overseen a $34 million organization at 30 locations throughout the Chicago area.

In addition to her role at JCC Chicago, Abrams also served as vice president of the Chicago Children’s Museum, where she created the strategic business and marketing plans to guide the museum’s move to Navy Pier and helped lead its capital campaign.

Abrams previously worked for McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs and is also a published author.

She said she wants to help lead the museum in fulfilling its mission “to honor the legacy of the Holocaust and teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice and indifference.”

“I am excited to build on the success that this world-class institution has achieved since its grand opening nearly five years ago and to work side by side with the board, staff, supporters, volunteers, and most importantly, the survivors,” she said.

Abrams earned bachelor’s degrees in finance and history from the University of Pennsylvania and a masters’s degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. She currently serves on the board of advisors for Kellogg’s Women’s Business Association.

Museum President Fritzie Fritzshall, a Holocaust survivor, said that the museum community looks forward to working with Abrams “to further our legacy and ensure that ‘never again’ becomes a reality.”

Abrams will begin her new role at the museum at the end of April, a little more than five years after the museum first opened. Hirschhaut and founding survivors helped launch the facility and give it a national and even global standing.

Hirschhaut was the third person hired for the museum and led the $50 million initiative to create it.

Howard Swibel, who serves on the executive committee of the museum’s board of directors and on a group that oversaw the hiring of the next executive director, said earlier that the next director would have different responsibilities now that the museum is more settled.

“We wanted this museum to be a living institution, integrated and relevant to the community and not just a history lesson,” Swibel said as the search was beginning.

Hirschhaut helped create such a museum, he said, while the next executive director will try to make the museum accessible to even more people.