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Israel Under Attack

July 11th, 2014 by azimmer
israel under attack

Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael find themselves under attack, and we stand united in prayer for their safety. The citizens and soldiers of Israel are constantly in our hearts, as we devote ourselves to Tefilah and Torah learning in their merit. Below you will Tehillim and Shiurim that may be of interest at this time.

Sefer Tehillim Online Text (English and Hebrew)
The recitation of perakim 83, 130 and 142 are recommended, followed by the tefila of Acheinu.

Misheberach for the IDF

Relevant Shiurim
Shiurim on Israel

Torah Perspectives on Amud Anan
(Israel’s previous anti-terror operation)
The Ethics of War

May there be only peace in Eretz Yisroel speedily!

YU Professionals Kick Off the Summer Season with Networking Events

July 2nd, 2014 by azimmer

The siren call of the beach and vacation was put on hold while YU’s professional networking groups organized two outstanding events for alumni and industry professionals in June.

On Thursday, June 19, the YU Wall Street Group presented “Current Trends in Activist Investing” featuring Peter W. May, President and founding partner of Trian Partners, in conversation with Andrew Conway, Managing Director at Credit Suisse.

YUWSG_eventThe event, hosted by Credit Suisse, attracted more than 150 alumni and friends of YU who work in various roles in the finance industry. “In addition to learning from Peter May’s life experiences and investment advice, it also enabled friends to reconnect with former classmates, and for attendees to network and create new relationships that will hopefully assist them in furthering their careers,” said Ovadyeh Aryeh ’02SB, a director at Credit Suisse. “Yeshiva played an integral role in enabling me to be in my current position today, and it continues to play an active role in my career advancement through the ongoing educational and networking opportunities it creates for alumni who work in finance.” View photos here.

On Thursday, June 26, the YU Real Estate Professionals hosted Bruce Ratner, Chairman of Forest City Ratner, in conversation with Michael Stoler, host of The Stoler Report at the New York Times building.

14560694975_47f7a14850_m“The event was an informative and fun forum for us to learn from Bruce Ratner about who he really is and what has made him successful. The close friendship he shares with Michael Stoler was apparent, and their easy interaction allowed us a real glimpse into the person Ratner is behind the title of titan of industry,” said Jennifer Prince ’99SB, who was profiled here by Alumni News in 2012. View photos here.

Prince’s friend Ellee Kim said, “The dialogue between two industry superstars, Michael Stoler and Bruce Ratner, was not just interesting and entertaining but also very inspiring. YU organized an incredible event at the architecturally-significant New York Times building.”

Finally, on Tuesday, July 22, YU Legal Professionals present “Silicon Wadi: A Guide to International Lawyering in Israel,” (CLE credits available) featuring Jeremy Lustman ’96YC, a partner at DLA Piper, and Benjamin Waltuch ’88YUHS, ’92SB, a partner at Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer Baratz. Both Lustman and Waltuch are Americans who practice law in Israel. Registration begins at 8:00 a.m. and the program begins at 8:30 a.m.  Register today! 


Stern College Art Exhibition Showcases Talent of Graduating Seniors

July 2nd, 2014 by azimmer

The 5th annual Stern Student Art Show is on display at the Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History through July 27.

Stern Art 2014The multimedia exhibition features selections from studio art majors in the class of 2014. The studio art program, part of Stern College’s Jewish and liberal arts curriculum, is a foundation-based program that deepens students’ skills of visual and artistic expression, and prepares them for careers in diverse art-related fields. Students are encouraged to find and nurture their individual artistic voices. The exhibition, designed by the students, highlights the character of the artistic process and the range of choices made by artists from conception to completion.

“The Student Art Show is an excellent opportunity for the fine art students at Stern to be able to showcase their work in a public setting. After years of hard work, long hours in the studio, and deep dedication crafting art, the women are able to celebrate their work in a museum,” said Joanna Ross-Tash ’13S, the Presidential Fellow for the Museum this past year.

The Stern students featured in the Senior Art Show are Shelley Adelson, Michelle Atri, Ellie Blanco, Victoria Chabot, Devora Cohen, Sharon Cohen, Haley David, Tova Lahasky, Adina Eizikovitz Rubin, Nicole Freund Ariella Fried, Leah Gottfried, Esther Hersh, Halina Hreisukh, Yael Roberts, Amanda Schaum, Anastasiya Siniakovich, Ellie Sonnenwirth, and Emily Wolmark.

If you don’t get a chance to visit and see the creativity of the graduates in person, click here for a link to the gallery of their artwork.

Torah Learning Opportunities for YU Alumni on the YU Israel Campus

June 10th, 2014 by azimmer

The RIETS Israel Kollel and the YU Israel Alumni  present:

Torah Learning Opportunities for YU Alumni on the Yeshiva University in Israel campus!

Kollel  Shnati

Ellul 5774 – Sivan 5775

For the fifth year in a row, male alumni are invited to participate in the shiurim and sedarim at the  RIETS-YU Israel Kollel in Bayit Vegan.

The regular kollel program focuses on learning Gemara in the morning seder. Parallel shiurim will be given by Rav Dovid Miller, Rosh Hakollel, and Rav Assaf Bednarsh.  The masechta  to be learned - Ketubot - third perek.

The afternoon seder is devoted to Halachah.  Hilchot Nidah and Aveilut  will be taught by Rav Miller and Issur V’Heter  by Rav Bednarsh.

There are also supplementary shiurim in halachah & hashkafah given by noted Rabbanim such as Rav Aharon Rakeffet.

Alumni are invited to attend any or all of the shiurim, and/or set up a chavruta in the beit midrash. People coming from outside Yerushalayim may wish to prepare “locally” and come to the kollel just for the shiurim.

The Ellul zman begins on Tuesday 30 Menachem Av 5774.

We believe that the kollel environment and the “YU-type” shiurim provide a very stimulating learning experience for those who would like the opportunity to “return to the beit midrash”.

There is no charge to participate.

For more information, including interest in finding a chavruta and to sign up, please contact:

Aharon Angstreich at aharonan@neto.net.il

Rabbi Yitzchak Schechter ’95YC, ’99F: Data Solutions to Benefit the Jewish Community

June 6th, 2014 by azimmer

Isaac_SchechterDr. Yitzchak Schechter ’95YC, ’99F knows all about the problems facing the Orthodox Jewish community, among them mental health issues, the so-called “shidduch crisis,” and kids at risk. But to find the data to support the theories of these communal issues, Schechter founded the Applied Research and Community Collaboration Institute (ARCC) which works to collect and analyze information and develop workable solutions for the mainstream and ultra-Orthodox communities.

As director of the Center for Applied Psychology (CAPs) mental health clinic at Monsey’s Bikur Cholim, a position he has held since 2000, Schechter has worked closely with the Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. Over time, he has seen the stigma of receiving mental health treatment slowly dissipate.

“I think that my YU learning and experience has greatly prepared me for this kind of role serving the Hasidic and more yeshivish community. They see that I am dedicated to treating them with sensitivity and understanding,” said Schechter. “I have an open ear and engage in dialogue with rabbis and leaders of the YU community, and the chasidish and yeshivish communities recognize how committed I am to both the Torah world and the professional world. I think they respect where I am coming from.”

Schechter knew he would attend YU when it came time for college because YU’s Torah Umadda philosophy fit perfectly with his family’s core values of serious learning and engagement with the professional world and society at large.

After starting as a computer science major, Schechter found that he was more interested in the way the mind—and not the computer monitor—works, as well as the way social systems function, and switched to a psychology major. He highlighted the courses he took with Joshua Bacon, Associate Professor of Psychology, as particularly illuminating.

Schechter went on to attend YU’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, during which time he also learned frequently with Rabbi Mayer Twersky at RIETS.

“My relationship with Rabbi Twersky and other rabbis at YU, and the ideals of Torah and Jewish values that I learned from them, informed my approach to my psychology studies, and, later on, my career,” explained Schechter. “I found that the best way I could actualize my avodas Hashem was to become a psychologist, and I credit that realization with the lessons I learned in the beis medrash.”

After obtaining his graduate degree from Ferkauf, Schechter worked at Rockefeller University and NYU’s Nathan Kline Institute. He also worked part time at CAPs and helped to build it until 2005, when the clinic was officially licensed by New York State, and then switched to a full-time position. Schechter and his staff at the clinic service the needs of the ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic community. This year alone, the clinic has served close to 1,000 clients who have visited the clinic nearly 20,000 times. His clients range from Modern Orthodox to yeshivish as well as ultra-Orthodox Jews from a variety of Hasidic sects, who travel to Schechter’s clinic from places like Monroe, Kiryas Joel, Williamsburg, Boro Park and Flatbush.

Schechter remains proud of his continuing identification with YU. In 2002, he started a doctoral internship program that employs many Stern, Yeshiva College and Ferkauf students interested in pursuing a professional career in psychology. One thing that’s very important to Schechter is that these students, as well as any other intern at his clinic, receive sensitivity training to better understand the cultural, religious and psychosocial issues at play within the Hasidic community. This steadfast allegiance to training sensitive and respectful therapists plays an important role in the decreasing stigma of the Orthodox community and its willingness to seek professional help.

Moreover, said Schechter, the experience serves as a learning one for the therapists, too. “At this point, I’ve trained over 100 clinicians to work in this community, including many people with YU backgrounds, and I’m proud that I can help bring these two communities together and create an environment of mutual respect for people of all different stripes,” he explained. “I employ therapists from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy, and we’re all engaged in the work of helping people with professional integrity and respect.”

He continued, “Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own little bubble that we don’t learn to appreciate what another community might have to offer, or consider things through another perspective. Yes, there are real differences, but there are also a lot of similarities.”

Schechter also taught the first Psychology of Religion course at Stern College for Women in 2000.

ARCC, Schechter’s newest venture, is a natural evolution of the increase in clients and lessening stigma attached to mental health. In other words, now that Schechter and his staff see what the problems are, they want to help solve them. ARCC’s goal is to help decision makers—parents, schools, rabbis and therapists—analyze data to make informed decisions. Schechter and his staff are in the midst of several long-term studies on obsessive-compulsive disorder and whether it really affects the Orthodox community to a greater extent than the general population, and whether premarital doubt translates into later challenges in a marriage, among others.

“It’s great to accomplish meaningful clinical work, but you can’t just stay there and not use the knowledge you’ve gained to help the wider community,” said Schechter.

Schechter’s eagerness to help people beyond the Jewish community is just another example of YU graduates seeking to use their education for the benefit of the greater good. And Schechter credits YU for much of his success and for forming his ideals about the kind of work he wants to do. His wife, Shoshana Schechter ’91S, is an Instructor of Bible at Stern College for Women and Director of the Basic Jewish Studies Program (Mechinah), and their oldest son is currently a student at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys.

“YU is part of something bigger, a larger mesorah and tradition,” said Schechter thoughtfully. “The connections my son has with his rebbeim and the older semicha students, as well as undergraduate college students, is very powerful. My family is proud to be a YU family.”

The Schechters have five children: Yoni ’15YUHSB, Ayelet, Yedidya, Noam and Nava.

Rabbi Dr. Menachem Raab ’44YC, ’47R, ’70BR: Nine Decades Long and Still Going Strong

May 2nd, 2014 by azimmer

Raab1On the occasion of his 70th reunion from Yeshiva College, Rabbi Dr. Menachem Raab reflects on a life that took him from his hometown of Philadelphia, to New York to pursue a YU education followed by an array of professional jobs in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, to making Aliyah not once, but twice.  Of course, there were many memorable moments in between – some positive such as the growth of his family which includes 16 great-grandchildren, and some less so including watching his family be taken hostage for weeks as passengers on a hijacked plane. Throughout it all, Rabbi Raab had tireless energy, and though he is retired now, he certainly isn’t slowing down.

“I might not understand the more advanced computer applications these days,” said Raab, “but I work at my computer all day writing different shiurim and articles that I send out to people who subscribe to my e-mails.”

This tireless energy and dedication to being productive are trademarks of Raab’s personality. Born in 1923 and raised in Philadelphia, Raab attended public school—there were no Jewish day schools in those days, he recounted—and supplemented his Jewish education with Talmud Torah classes in the afternoons, but always looked forward to the day when he could attend Yeshiva University. “I was excited to have the chance to immerse myself more fully in Jewish studies,” he said.

Raab arrived on the Yeshiva College campus in 1940, and, in addition to his intensive Jewish studies, majored in both math and philosophy. Because he and his fellow students were exempt from the army due to their religious studies, Raab helped the war effort in other ways through volunteering. He also served as gabbai for the student minyan and was active in other extracurricular activities.

“I fondly remember the Thursday night gemarah learning sessions, which would continue through the morning and then we would just go on and have a regular day having not slept at all the night before,” said Raab with a laugh. “And, one night before a critical calculus exam, many students were panicking and so I invited them all to my room and went through the entire course with them until 2 a.m. I think every single one of them passed the test.”

In his spare time, Raab worked to help pay for his education. “I didn’t have much financial support from my family when I attended YC and semicha, and neither did many of my peers, since we were attending school in the wake of the Great Depression,” said Raab. “Many of us worked when we could between and after classes to make extra money.”

Following his undergraduate and semicha studies, Raab attended Columbia University, where he obtained his Master’s in Educational Administration, and afterward, began a long career in both the rabbinate and in Jewish education.

In Rochester, NY, for nine years, followed by eight years in Trenton, NJ, and then in Miami, Raab not only worked as a pulpit rabbi and Jewish educator in the local day schools but also helped organize regional gatherings of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Raab ran conferences and monthly meetings of local rabbis to discuss pressing issues facing them in their small Jewish communities, and issues of national importance facing the Jewish people. “I like to keep busy, and not just sit back and be an observer,” said Raab simply.

It is this quality, perhaps, that came in most handy when a certain woman caught his attention right after he finished his rabbinical studies at RIETS.

“I frequented a certain cafeteria for lunch, and one day a girl comes in with a friend of mine from yeshiva, and he comes over to me and asks me if I know of a job for her,” recalled Raab. “I said, ‘Let me talk to her,’ and he said no and I said forget it. The next morning I meet them again, and when he left her to make a call, I went over and made a date with her right then and there.”

After a couple of months, Raab and Sarah Hammer got engaged and today, they have five children, 19 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Aside from being part of a family that played a part in the history of Israel (Raab is the grandson of one of the founders of Petach Tikvah, a major city in Israel), the Raab family also possesses a unique significance in the history of the entire Middle East, as former passengers on a plane that was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group.

During a family trip to Israel in the summer of 1970, Raab flew back a week before his wife and children to officiate at a wedding at the synagogue he led in Trenton. The TWA plane on which his wife and children were aboard a week later was hijacked—one of four coordinated hijackings—and re-routed to Jordan.

“It was a horrible time,” recalled Raab, “and none of us knew what was happening.”

The hijacked plane was one of four coordinated hijackings, and David Raab ’70YUHS—Raab’s eldest son, who was 17 at the time—was removed with other Jewish passengers to a safe house in a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman. He was the last hostage to be released, and when he finally landed at JFK Airport in New York, thousands of people had gathered to greet his arrival, including a large contingent of YU and YU High School students who had been praying for three weeks for the hostages’ safe release.  David later wrote a book, Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings.

In 1973, the Raabs made Aliyah for a few years before taking up residence in Miami, where Raab was hired by the Central Agency for Jewish Education of Florida to initiate a new Jewish day school department which was to advise the Jewish federation on funding the Miami day schools and to help the day schools in all of Florida with their educational programs, teacher supervision and fund raising by creating and organizing events and programs. Raab’s tremendous success in Florida led him to be hired as principal of Hillel Day School, where he nearly doubled enrollment and raised the academic level.

When Raab retired, he and his wife returned to Israel, where they now live in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem. True to his restless nature, Raab was eager to take over the RCA region in Israel when asked, and he quickly whipping a lagging group into one with strong membership and well-attended monthly meetings. “Being an organizer is one of my biggest strengths, and when I think back on my career, I am proud to say that no matter where I was, I helped get things done.” He also maintains a database of popular divrei Torah for each parsha and yom tov—13 years’ worth—at http://torahportion.wordpress.com.

Raab will celebrate his 70th college reunion this May. Upon reflecting over the decades of change and transformation that have taken place since he was a college student, Raab has many thoughts on the nature of a changed society. “My grandchildren bought me a Smartphone, and I think it’s smarter than me,” he joked. But, on a more serious note, Raab said, “I think something that will remain timeless is the importance of sincerity. Be sincere in all that you do, whatever field you enter and whatever direction your life might take, and you can’t go wrong.”

Reunion 2014 is a Family Affair

May 2nd, 2014 by azimmer

Yeshiva University is known to have many alumni families in which multiple relatives attended YU, received multiple degrees, and proclaims, “we are YU through and through!” But for those celebrating milestone reunions alongside fellow family members, they have a special opportunity to reflect on their YU experiences together. Following are the stories of a few of  the  inter-generational families celebrating a banner reunion or have a family member graduating from YU this year.

Leon WildesTake Leon Wildes ’54YC, the founder of the prestigious immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg P.C., who is celebrating his 60th Reunion alongside his son Rabbi Mark Wildes ’89YC, founder of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, who is celebrating his 25th.

Wildes recalled his first encounter with YU, as a young high school student in a small Pennsylvania town with few Jews. “I had no idea that there was a college that was also a yeshiva,” said Wildes. “I had been set to attend the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university run by the Catholic diocese, but when I heard about YU, I changed my plans. It was a whole new beginning and a whole new life for me.”

Wildes graduated from YC and the New York University School of Law. As founder of one of the city’s most prestigious immigration law firms, he represented well-known clients like John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Wildes was also an Adjunct Professor at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he taught immigration law for more than 30 years. He has been a member of the YC Board of Overseers for over 30 years and served as its treasurer—and his sons and grandsons have attended YU schools.

“I’m proud that attending YU has become a family tradition, and I look forward to Reunion,” said Wildes. “I’m still in touch with a lot of people I know only from YU, and I feel very appreciative of the education I received there.”

Dr. Sam SoferDr. Samuel ’89YC and Tamar Soffer ’89S are celebrating their 25th Reunion as well as the graduation of their son, Ari ’14YC.

“We have five sons and Ari is our oldest, and it’s nice to get to come back to YU after all this time for our Reunion and also have another event—Ari’s graduation—to celebrate,” said Dr. Soffer, who is a pediatric surgeon at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center at North Shore-Long Island Jewish and an Associate Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the Hofstra NS-LIJ School of Medicine. Dr. Soffer also fondly recalled his science classes with Dr. Carl Feit, the Dr. Joseph and Rachel Ades Chair in Pre-Health Sciences and Associate Professor of Biology.

Schreier Julie Schreier ’89S, YU’s Director of Institutional Advancement for the Long Island Region, is celebrating her 25th Reunion and her son Ashie’s (’14SB) graduation. “It’s a thrill for me to celebrate this milestone reunion and my son’s graduation from YU in the same year,” said Schreier. “We are a YU family through and through—my parents graduated from YU, my husband (Shapsie Schreier ’85YC) is a YU graduate—and we are all so proud of our relationship with the university.”

Ashie will be continuing his YU association intensely for the next few years as well, as he is set to enter YU’s new Master’s in Accounting graduate program. “Having grown up hearing about the benefits of a YU education from both my grandparents and parents, I think it’s a nice turn of events that I’m celebrating my graduation at the same time my mother is celebrating her reunion,” he said. “My parents’ obvious happiness and pride with their long relationship with YU makes me look forward to my own reunion one day—perhaps alongside my own son or daughter celebrating a graduation from YU, as well.”

Dean_Karen_BaconKaren Bacon ’64S, the Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women, is celebrating her 50th reunion alongside both her husband, Dr. Stephen Bacon ’64YC, and their daughter Yael Pahmer ’89S. “When I traveled from LA to attend Stern, I was too young and naive to understand how profoundly this institution would define my life and the lives of our children,” explained Dean Bacon.  “Torah Umadda is the way we think, and Torah is the way we live. As our daughter Yael celebrates with her reunion class and my husband and I with ours, we look forward to the day when our grandchildren, two of whom are already YU students, will continue this chain, this legacy, this precious way of life.”

Faculty Fast Facts

May 1st, 2014 by azimmer

Dean_Karen_BaconDr. Karen Bacon ’64S, was the valedictorian of her graduating class and went on to receive a PhD in microbiology from UCLA, where she was a National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Fellow and a United States Public Health Service Doctoral Trainee. She subsequently taught at the University of Indiana and Yeshiva College, YU’s undergraduate college for men, before assuming the deanship of Stern College in 1977, the first woman to occupy that role. Under her leadership, the college has experienced a period of remarkable growth, during which time the faculty grew, enrollment almost doubled, and academic programs, services and facilities expanded. Today, Bacon is the Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women.

1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member/administrator?
I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Biology Department of Indiana University in Bloomington.

2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
I enjoy meeting one-on-one with students, discussing ideas and education with faculty and finding solutions to interesting problems.

3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would have loved to have trained as either a photographer or a craftsman working with wood.

4. What was your goal as a professor, and what is your goal as dean of Stern College?
As a professor, I tried to communicate how understanding science enriches our religious experience as well as our ability to successfully navigate a world increasingly driven by science and technology. As dean, my goals are to support and encourage the faculty, to motivate the students to grow strong and reach high, and to be responsible to our supporters, who are counting on us to educate women committed to a Torah way of life.

5. What would your current and former YU students be surprised to learn about you?
I love reading expressively to our grandchildren and am currently deep into a Samurai series that I punctuate with intricate hand movements and deep-throated growls.


YU Israel Alumni Celebrate Milestones

April 1st, 2014 by admin

Over the past few months, alumni in Israel have participated in celebrations to mark two significant YU events and milestones:  Chag Hasemikha, which celebrated the ordination of a record 230 rabbis from RIETS, and the 50-year reunion for the Class of 1964.  Read about these events and view photos below.
 Chag Hasemikhah in Israel
YU ChagThe Chag Hasemikhah in Israel took place on May 13th, 2014 (13 Iyyar 5774). Nineteen musmakhim were honored at a beautiful dinner along with three musmakhim celebrating their 50th year as RIETS alumni. Dr. Yisrael Levitz represented the 50th year alumni recounting his memorable experiences with his Rebbeim at RIETS and Rabbi Ari Yablok spoke on behalf of the current Musmakhim. Rabbi Dovid Miller, Rosh Kollel at RIETS Israel Kollel honored the guests with divrei bracha and Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Dean of RIETS, ended the special night with an inspiring charge to the musmakhim. View photos of the evening here.

50th Reunion in Israel
On Sunday, June 8th, YU alumni in Israel gathered to celebrate their 50-year reunion from Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women. Alumni enjoyed reminiscing over dinner and hearing updates about YU Israel from Stephaine Strauss, Acting Director.  Dr. Mitchel Wolf ’60YUHS, ’64YC, ’68E, who organized the reunion said, “It was a very enjoyable, informal evening of schmoozing and catching up. I can’t think of the last time I was in a room with so many people and felt at the end of the evening that I was in the presence of an unusually talented and dedicated group and that I was privileged to consider them all not only people with whom I had something distant in common but whom I could be proud to call my friends.” At the event, Dr. Wolf asked each of the participants to share highlights of the past 50 years. The alumni present were Jerome Bass, Jeff Bienenfeld, Herb Cohen, Ron Friedman, Yonah Fuld, Sandy Gitel, Shaul Hochstein, Marty Katz, Alan Kermaier, Larry Levitt, Haim Makovsky, Jordy Penkower, Chaim Sacknovitz, Ted Sylvetsky, Irv Treitel, David Wilk, and Mitch Wolf.

Alumni living in Israel are encouraged to update their contact information at http://yu.convio.net/site/PageNavigator/alumni_info_update.html to stay informed with YU Israel events and activities.

Faculty Fast Facts

April 1st, 2014 by azimmer

Aaron_Koller2Aaron Koller ’01YC, ’09BR ’10BR is an associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, where he studies the ancient world of the Bible and rabbinic literature, especially material culture, language, and intellectual history. His most recent book is Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Aaron also teaches Talmud and Biblical interpretation at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. He lives in Queens with his wife, Shira Hecht-Koller, and their children.

1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member?
I taught for a couple of years on a part-time basis in Queens College and I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, where I wrote my doctorate.

2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
I wasn’t sure I was prepared to be a teacher, as graduate school prepared me more for research than for teaching. But the teaching, at least with YU students, is a real pleasure and always interesting and challenging.

3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to work in a natural history museum curating dinosaur fossils and other such things, or become a bread baker or a woodworker. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that any of these will happen.

4. What is your goal as a Bible scholar, and what is your goal as a teacher?
In my scholarship, my goal now is to find projects that are meaningful, personally and – hopefully – communally. The book on Esther helped me explore issues of Diaspora-Israel relations, politics of the Jewish community, and conflicting values within complex identities. In teaching Jewish Studies at YU, my primary goal is to get the students to look again at their sacred, and often familiar, classical texts, and realize that now, as young adults in university, those texts have much to say about many of the issues central to their thinking. Sometimes we learn Jewish texts and stories in elementary school and never revisit them as we grow up, so the story of Creation remains a second-grade story while other subjects get more advanced and extend to quantum mechanics or contemporary French critical theory. My goal is to show that the Jewish texts are just as rich, complex and rewarding as the rest of what there is to learn in college and beyond.

5. What would your current and former YU students be surprised to learn about you?
Other than my answer to #3? I love going camping with my family and especially cooking out over an open fire. In the future, my wife and I would love to open a kosher bed-and-breakfast in the country, with back-to-nature and intellectual components to it. If anyone wants to join in, let me know!