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Yeshiva University Israel Alumni News

April 1st, 2014 by admin

There will be an Erev Iyun about Pesach on Thursday April 3, 3 Nissan at Beit Knesset Ohel Ari, Ravutzky 98, Ra’anana.  The learning is for ilui neshama of Rabbi Yakov Appel (YC, RIETS) on the occasion of his 15th yahrzheit.

18:30 Rav Eleizer Sheinwald, Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Meir Harel, Modiin
19:20 Rav Chaim Ganz, Rosh Yeshiva Maale Eliyahu, Tel Aviv
20:20 Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon, Rav, Kehilat Alon Shevut Darom; Head, Merkaz Halacha      Vehoraah  (please bring “highlighters” in order to highlight text)
21:00 Rav David Stav, Rav of Shoham;  Director of Tzohar
21:45 Rav Ronen Neuwirth, Rav, Bet Knesset Ohel Ari

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!

Alumni Profile: Tova Renna ’98S

April 1st, 2014 by azimmer

Tova_RennaFor Tova Renna ’98S, Senior Analyst at Johnson & Johnson, the choice to attend Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business made perfect sense for her professional ambitions.

“I knew I was interested in business and accounting in high school, and I had heard wonderful things about Sy Syms,” said Renna, originally of Teaneck. NJ. “I was confident that YU would prepare me for the intensity of the business world.”

Renna had always been interested in economics and enjoyed being involved in financial dealings. Her interest began in elementary school, when she served as treasurer of the student council. “I also wanted to have a career where I knew I would be able to make a good living for myself and my family,” she said.

At Sy Syms, she majored in accounting, and credited Professor David Hornung’s class, Introduction to Accounting, as a great training ground. “Professor Hornung laid a really strong foundation that really helped me in the early years of my career,” said Renna.

At YU, she also served as treasurer of the Sy Syms Student Council—continuing the role she had held years earlier, although now on a larger scale—and as manager for the basketball team. But it was the time spent with friends, notably her same roommates throughout her years of college, which Renna recalled most fondly.  “I had great classes and teachers, but the things that I really cherish are the memories of running to Dunkin Donuts with my friends in the middle of the night to buy up all the donuts that had been sitting on the shelf for far too long and were going to be thrown out,” laughed Renna. “Thankfully, we had 18 flights of stairs to walk up in Brookdale Hall, and we thought it canceled out all those donuts.”

After graduating Sy Syms, Renna went to work at Deloitte & Touche, LLP, as a Senior Accountant, and then at Atari, Inc. (yes, as in the popular ’80s video game Atari) as a Manager of Royalty Accounting. As one might expect for a company that produces video games and is responsible for beginning the trends of the video arcade and modern video game industries, it was a rather laid-back work environment.  “People wore shorts to work, and I don’t imagine many accountants work in such an atmosphere,” said Renna.

In 2006, Renna arrived at Johnson & Johnson, where she is a Senior Analyst. A typical workday involves a series of meetings every day, as Renna’s scope of responsibilities spans the globe. “In the increasingly fast-paced and digital world in which we live, I, too, have found myself working in a very modern type of office,” explained Renna. “I use technology that allows me to share computers with other colleagues, utilize Skype for face-to-face meetings and exercise other videoconferencing options.”

Because Renna and other female colleagues sometimes face certain challenges being women in the world of business, which tends to be led and largely populated by men, Renna said she has learned to speak up for herself, which she admits is not necessarily an intuitive inclination found naturally in many women.

“The jobs I’ve held haven’t necessarily made me the only woman in the office, but finance and accounting does tend to be male-dominated, and I have to work at confidently speaking up for what I want, as I expect many other women do,” explained Renna. “But I think that as long as women are aware of it, we can work at it and really succeed.”

Renna’s own ability to speak publically was helped along by a two-day workshop on presentation skills that her company sponsored in 2008. “Since I took the class, public speaking is something I am much more comfortable with, which is important for any professional in a growing global workforce,” said Renna.

One thing that Renna regrets? Not keeping in touch with the many connections she’s made over the years from professional networking. “I know that I missed certain opportunities and widening my network of contacts by not being consistently in touch with some people,” she said.

This is one of the pearls of wisdom she happily doles out to current YU students at some of the events in which she actively participates. “I got reinvolved in YU about two years ago when I met another alumnus at work, and he invited me to tag along to a career fair he was attending at YU,” said Renna. “I was glad that I went, because I know that I’m grateful for the opportunities I got at YU and it’s nice to be able to give back in this particular way.”

Renna has spoken to students at events like “Being Orthodox in an Unorthodox World,” interviewed students for internships at her company and participated in a recent mentoring panel at the start of the spring semester. “I’m able to share with the students some of the things I did right when I got out of YU, and some of the things that I wish I could have done better,” she explained. “Perhaps the most important thing that I emphasize to the students is to know their own stock and be effective advocates for themselves when they go into the workforce. After that, I make sure they know that fostering connections with the people you work with not only makes for a better working environment, but could help you professionally down the line.”

Renna lives in Highland Park, NJ, with her family: her husband Jeremy ’98YC, who is the Vice President of Vendor Collaborations at Macy’s, Inc., and their three children, Miriam, 10, Netanel, 6, and Aliza, 8 months. She also served as the Vice President of Finance for her synagogue for four years, and is currently serving as Co-Chair of the Financial Excellence Committee of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY), a day school in Edison, NJ.

Alumni Educators Join Hundreds Who Benefit from iJed Conference

April 1st, 2014 by azimmer

More than 500 professional educators and lay leaders from across North America attended iJed 2014, a conference focusing on innovation in Jewish education co-hosted by Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, NY, March 2-4.

The conference—which was structured to create a more interactive learning experience—kicked off with Teacher Day, a full day designed to address the unique needs and challenges teachers face. Another highlight was the Cardboard Challenge, an interactive project that encouraged participants to work together in playful and creative ways to get them thinking about how to inspire creativity in students. “Flipped learning,” a cutting-edge educational technique in which students review lectures and materials at home and use class time for peer discussion and problem-solving with teachers, was also modeled. There were intensive sessions called “Learning Labs,” which addressed a wide range of issues facing Jewish day schools across the board; impromptu forums at the iPlayground, a feature that debuted at this year’s conference; and the iJED Café, which provided a relaxed setting to network with colleagues and learn more about online and blended learning in Jewish education

“When I first entered the hotel and looked around at the hundreds of faces, all educators like myself, it was both humbling and overwhelming,” said Jaclyn Sova ’08S, ’10AZ, a YU Teach fellow and a teacher at the Stella K Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett, NY. “I attended sessions that engaged my mind and excited my heart, and it was at thrill to have the passion of education reignited after a long year of teaching. I am grateful for this amazing event and I’m eager to bring new ideas that I learned from iJed back to my school.”

iJED2014 is a direct result of the work that the YU School Partnership does on a daily basis with the schools in their network to foster connectivity and collaboration between schools, school leaders and teachers. The YU School Partnership remains committed to organizing programs on a small and large scale throughout the year as part of its strategic support and development of Jewish day schools and their leaders.

Conference participants had the opportunity to hear from leaders in both the education and Jewish communal worlds, such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at YU, and Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a world-renowned author and lecturer and an expert on positive psychology.

The conference’s unique structure embodied its goal: to bring Jewish day schools of all backgrounds together to model and engage in an ongoing dialogue about best practices in 21st century teaching and learning. “Often people come to conferences and sit in sessions with facilitators, and then the session ends and they’re left wanting more information or answers to questions they only think of once they’ve had a chance to digest what they learned,” said Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, director of capacity building at the YU School Partnership. “iJED 2014 was designed to encourage deep learning by offering participants the chance to meet and connect with session facilitators before, during and after the conference through the iJED online communities.  Participants had a chance to process what they learned and constantly build on that knowledge throughout the event.”

“Teachers and school leaders are able to inspire themselves around the best practices and cutting edge ideas in education today,” said Rabbi Adam Englander ’99YC, ’02RE, ’03AZ, upper school principal at Hillel Day School of Boca Raton. “It is so exciting to gather with the best minds and hearts in the field of Jewish education.”

iJED2014 was made possible through the generous support of the Avi Chai, Kohelet and Covenant Foundations, The Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, Ira and Sheri Balsam and other sponsors.

YU West Coast Alumni News

April 1st, 2014 by admin

On Sunday, April 27, there will be a community-wide Yom Hashoah Event at Beth Jacob Congregation in LA. Mincha will be at 6:30 p.m. at the YULA Beit Midrash, following by a memorial march at 6:45, which will start outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center and continue to Beth Jacob. The memorial program will begin at 7:30 at the shul, and will feature special guest speaker Aaron Bell in conversation with his granddaughter Aliza Abrams, Director of YU’s Department of Jewish Service Learning. The event is sponsored by The David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation Institute on the Shoah U’Gevurah of YU.

Email WestCoast@yu.edu for more information.

YU Student Mark Weingarten Uses Music to Bring People Together

March 3rd, 2014 by azimmer

Mark WeingartenWhen Mark Weingarten played the violin for patients at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem during the two years he was learning in Israel after high school, he quickly realized it was a unique way to bring people together and bypass the awkward small talk that can occur between patients and well-meaning visitors.

“I realized that music allows a person to transcend the barriers that exist between different people and to begin to form a connection with them,” he explained.

When Weingarten arrived at Yeshiva University in 2011, he founded Music Vs. (pronounced Music Verse), an initiative run as a student club in universities and high schools across the country and abroad. Its goal is to use the universal languages of music, song and dance to alleviate the social discomfort associated with meeting strangers and create long-lasting friendships with those struggling to overcome medical conditions.

Recently, Music Vs. initiated what it calls a “5 Minute Phone Campaign.” Said Weingarten, “Everyone has five minutes, whether it’s making a Facebook status or checking their email for the 100th time each day. There’s always time for a five-minute break, and we can make those five minutes add up.”

The campaign is the latest step for Music Vs., which has already spread to countries like Uganda, Ukraine, Russia and Israel, and over 15 universities across the U.S. However, the 5 minute campaign goes even further. Now, hundreds of adults in addition to students are committing to call the elderly in their communities and maintain regular contact with them, even just with five-minute phone calls.

“While powerful and intimate,” explained Weingarten, referring to the phone calls, “it’s also something relatively easy and time efficient. Just like a musical minuet.

Weingarten, who was recently honored as a Point of Light at YU’s Annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation for his impressive efforts, serves as the founder and executive director of Music Vs., in addition to numerous other activities: he has already started rabbinic studies at RIETS, in addition to studying history and biology at YC; he was named a Kressel Scholar to conduct research at YC and Harvard; and he spent his summers working in the U.S. Congress and at Camp Simcha. He was accepted to Mount Sinai Medical School’s Humanities and Medicine program, and plans to pursue a career that encompasses the rabbinate, medicine and service to the broader community.

If you would like to bring Music Vs. to a college or high school in your community, or would like to join the 5 minute campaign or start it in your local synagogue, please contact Mark Weingarten at Weingarten.mark@gmail.com or sign up today.

Faculty Fast Facts

March 3rd, 2014 by azimmer

Professor Marty LeibowitzMartin Leibowitz is the Joseph Kerzner Chair in Accounting and Clinical Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance. He received a BS from Pennsylvania State University, and an MPhil and a PhD from Columbia University. He has been a full-time faculty member of the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University since 1995, and has received the school’s professor of the year award numerous times.


1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member?
I was a CPA in public practice for 18 years, including audit manager for Coopers & Lybrand, and head of my own firm prior to PhD studies at Columbia University.

2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
I thoroughly enjoy accounting and teaching, which probably puts me into nerd territory. My favorite teaching experience is seeing students’ facial expressions change from bewildered to “aha, now I understand!” I also get nachas from catching-up with former students I meet at simchas.

3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
That’s a tough question, because so many careers interest me. I have a degree in elementary education and would love to teach 2nd grade. My 7th-grade math teacher inspired me and I would want to teach middle school math. I invest for several trusts and investment advising would be exciting. I could also see myself directing a nonprofit organization, inventing something, writing textbooks and engaging in carpentry.

4. What is your goal as an accountant, and what is your goal as a teacher?
I have the same goals for both: innovation and excellence.

5. What would your current and former YU students be surprised to learn about you?
I was at Woodstock! In those days, I thought that Billy Preston got his hairstyle from me.

How YU Prepared One Student to be a U.S. Army JAG Officer

February 3rd, 2014 by azimmer

Michael_LevinMichael Levin ’05YC, originally from Scarsdale, grew up in a non-Orthodox Jewish home. During a year abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, while he was a student at Dickinson College, he realized just how much he yearned to explore his Jewish heritage and engage in serious study of Jewish texts. When he returned to the U.S., he decided to formalize this desire by attending Yeshiva University.

At Yeshiva College, Levin majored in political science and participated in extracurricular activities like soccer. “I found the political science department to be excellent, especially courses with Professor Ruth Bevan,” said Levin. “More importantly, I found a culture of students who really prioritized their studies and truly loved to learn, which was something I hadn’t seen before. The dual curriculum at YU was intense, but very rewarding.”

As a student at Hofstra University School of Law, Levin—who had always had a desire to serve his country as a member of the U.S. Army—learned about the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). “The idea of the dual soldier/lawyer role really intrigued me,” he explained. “It presented a unique opportunity that would utilize the skills I was learning in law school while also enabling me to serve my country. It was the perfect opportunity for me.”

After working as a staff lawyer in the litigation department at the New York firm Schulte Roth & Zabel, Levin was commissioned as an Officer in the Army in July 2012 and became a First Lieutenant in the JAG Corps. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and stationed at Fort Campbell, which lies on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. Levin and his wife, Samantha, originally of Lawrence, NY, live in Clarksville, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.

Levin recently served a tour of duty at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where he worked on two missions. One mission involved helping soldiers who needed legal assistance and representation, which included defending soldiers facing administrative disciplinary actions. Levin’s other mission had him working to help resolve claims of Afghan citizens against the American government to receive compensation for any damage incurred on their physical and personal property because of the Army’s activities in their country.

“It was a very rewarding experience to serve my country in a combat zone,” said the now Captain Levin. “Being able to serve with the 101st Airborne Division is definitely a point of pride for me.”

Michael Levin Celebrates Chanukah in Afghanistan

Michael Levin Celebrates Chanukah in Afghanistan

Levin applied his burgeoning connection with his Judaism that he obtained at YU to his army service at the Jewish minyan for Friday night and Shabbat services in Afghanistan (which Levin says received between 10 and 15 soldiers each week), and attended the Chanukah party there. “Many more Jews are connected to their religion in the Army than you might think,” said Levin. “Being in the army, and especially being deployed, help strengthen my Jewish identity. My dog tags proudly state that I am Jewish.”

Though Levin was happy to serve his time in Afghanistan, he admits that being away from his family—especially his wife, who was pregnant at the time—made it a bittersweet experience. Levin was fortunate enough to arrive home in time to see his first child, Isabella Brooke, be born.

Levin keeps in touch with YU, whether he is in Afghanistan or back in Tennessee, by reading the monthly e-newsletters and other e-mail correspondence about the latest events happening on campus.

“At YU, I learned that there are 24 hours in a day and that you have the opportunity to make good use out of every single hour,” said Levin with a laugh. “It certainly helped me realize that idle time is wasted time, and when you’re deployed and working 15-hour days up to seven days a week in a combat zone, that attitude that was instilled in me at YU helped me deal with the intensity.”

Alumni in Startups Initiate New Professional Networking Group

January 30th, 2014 by azimmer

cloud-startupYU Alumni currently manages professional networking groups for alumni on Wall Street, in real estate, accounting, financial planning, and law.  Next up: Startups! Owing to the booming scene of tech-related and other innovative ventures, alumni involved in the startup scene as investors, founders, employees, or developers will soon have a professional networking group geared toward their interests and needs.

Leading the formation of the new group are Dave Weinberg ’05YC, CEO and co-founder of Pinbooster, and Zach Abramowitz ’05YC, CEO of ReplyAll. Weinberg and Abramowitz, both dedicated alumni and serial social entrepreneurs, hope to schedule events to bring together like-minded peers for networking opportunities and educational programming.

“In the past few years there has been a significant uptick in alumni and friends of YU participating in the startup scene, whether as new angel investors or by taking the leap and founding their own startups,” said Weinberg. “There is so much we can learn from other and help each other avoid some of the pitfalls that are typically associated with starting out.”

The first event will take place in Manhattan in February or March. Register to join the group and receive emails. More details on the event and the group are forthcoming.



Faculty Fast Facts

January 30th, 2014 by azimmer

Ruth_BevanProfessor Ruth Bevan holds the David W. Petegorsky Chair in Political Science and is Co-Chair of YU’s Department of Political Science. Bevan specializes in European politics and modern political theory, and teaches courses focusing on the European Union and Western political theory, including Israeli political thought. She has received a German Academic Exchange Service Fellowship, Fulbright Faculty Fellowship, IREX (State Department) Short Term Grant, an Earhart Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and has been a fellow of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and an Oxford University Round Table Participant.

1. What did you do before you joined YU as a faculty member?
I was in Germany doing PhD studies at the University of Freiburg. The supervisor of my dissertation (Doktorvater) suddenly passed away, leaving me in the lurch. Prof. Sidney Hook at NYU agreed to mentor my doctoral dissertation, a comparison of Karl Marx and the English Conservative Edmund Burke. That was a wonderful stroke of luck for me, as Hook was a renowned philosopher specializing in Hegel, Marx and John Dewey. Hook became like a grandfather to me and provided marvelous experiences. For example, he once called me, saying he was too busy to attend a Socialist Party meeting down in Greenwich Village. Would I substitute for him? I did that. In a run-down store front in the Village a group of aging men, including Bayard Rustin, came together to talk about issues of social justice. Rustin arrived in a fine vested suit, a bowler hat and an ebony walking cane. Memorable!

As I settled into NYU, a part-time teaching position at YU became available in the coming fall of 1965. I became full-time at YU in1969.

2. What is your favorite aspect of your job at YU?
Without a moment’s hesitation I can say that the favorite part of my work at YU has always been the classroom. The quality of the students is what has kept me at YU.

3. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
If I were to stay in academics and research, I would be most interested today in the neuro sciences. I read with avid interest now whatever new discoveries and claims about the brain are published. Neuroscience incorporates my interests in medicine and philosophy, and I am interested in this from a social scientist’s perspective primarily.

If I were to leave the world of academics, then I would probably choose to study architecture. The architect “concretizes” our self concept as well as how we relate to others in public space. Again I think one sees the social scientist peeking out here in this interest.

4. What is your goal as a political scientist, and what is your goal as a teacher?
I grew up in the generation shaped by World War II. My father volunteered in the war – I really did not know him until he returned after the war. He was missing in action for a year. His transport ship in the Pacific was hit by a kamikaze. The war became the filter of my reality. I was motivated by questions of the Holocaust and these questions eventually led me into Political Science. I studied in Germany for this reason, and was encouraged by my husband, a German Jew. I have done rather extensive work on Germany’s Holocaust memorials. I also got a State Department grant to take a sabbatical in Bulgaria to interview Jewish survivors of the war. The Nazis ordered the deportation of Bulgaria’s Jews in 1943 but Bulgarians refused to comply. All 50,000 Jews in Bulgaria survived. The story was different in Macedonia under Bulgarian supervision. About five years ago when doing archival work on the Berlin Holocaust Memorial by the Brandenburg gate, I had a very strange experience. As I came to the end of my research, I said to myself, “This is it. I have finished my quest. And I most likely will never return here unless to attend a conference.”I felt a sense of closure with the “German issue,” though not with the Holocaust. Can there ever be closure there?

I am now translating this Holocaust concern into a concern about education. I am keeping very much abreast of the “crisis in the humanities.” Op-eds about this appear in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times periodically. Student enrollment in humanities courses continues to drop at the top tier universities. The fear is that without vibrant humanities studies we shall be in danger of losing our humanity. Is this empirically true? Intellectually, I want to agree. However, as a social scientist I am moved to play devil’s advocate by asserting that the top Nazis loved classical music, art, literature. Why did they not absorb the humanistic values of these creative endeavors? Right now I am at the stage of my thinking where I’m assuming there is a missing psychological variable. Current work on empathy interests me. Perhaps therein lies the key. Nazis lacked the capacity for empathy. But all this means for me that we still need to have greater clarity on the relationship between education and ethical behavior. If education only equips us for professions and employment without simultaneously nurturing the ethical personality, then we’ll have to lower our expectations about education institutions and the educational process and search for other ways to achieve ethical responsibility in individuals and in society generally.

A second interest of mine has always been the impact of technology on social relations and on human beings as biological creatures. The two interests overlap. Horkheimer of
the Frankfurt School of Social Research in his Dialectics of Enlightenment talks about the
Nazis introducing to history “industrial genocide.” I am now caught up in the questions
raised and problems formed by the advent of Information Technology (IT). Always
interested in philosophical approaches, I am particularly anxious about the preservation of our democratic liberties, including that of privacy, and the enforcement of integrity in government.

I would say that my goal as a political scientist, as well as that of a teacher, is to apply my experiences and knowledge to helping analyze the course of social currents, to helping understand what is going on around us, and to helping empower the individual through knowledge. Fear immobilizes and encourages flights into fantasy – which ultimately is what the ostrich does when it buries its head in the sand. Knowledge is power.

5. What would your current and former Students be surprised to hear about you?
I don’t think that there is much that would come as a surprise, since we have a pretty open dialogue. In times when reality presses too hard against my personal walls, I escape into paints and adult coloring books. I have a special place in my study where I store all that. My father was a photographer and I have inherited his interest. Animals have a special niche in my psyche, and I am a borderline vegetarian. Travel has always been a passion – that, too, is inherited. None of this is shocking, though, and what perhaps would really surprise my students is that, after all these years, I still get nervous before the first class and before a public lecture. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I have a measure of stage fright. At my core, I’m actually quite shy.