Yeshiva University News » 2006 » January

YU President Richard M. Joel meets with Israeli President Moshe Katzav.

Jan 30, 2006 — President Richard M. Joel was in Israel during Winter Break continuing his goal to strengthen the relationship between America’s premier Jewish university and Israel.

For coverage in the Israeli media see this story from The Jerusalem Post.

Highlights of President Joel’s visit to Israel include:

* Meeting with Israeli President Moshe Katzav.
* Meeting with Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski.
* Meeting with educators to discuss joint efforts and cooperation, including Dr. Menachem Magidor, president of Hebrew University; Elan Ezrachi, director of the Jewish Agency’s MASA program; and educators at the Melton Center.

President Joel also announced YU’s first Israel Colloquium, scheduled for March 2006, as a celebration of Torah U’Madda and its relevance to life in Israel and the Jewish world. The colloquium will include a formal academic convocation at which honorary doctorates will be presented to key individuals who have made a difference in Israel.

President Joel visited with alumna Rabbanit Malke Bina, founder and educational director of Matan, a pioneer institution in women’s Torah education in Jerusalem. The other honorees are Victor B. Geller, a Jewish communal administrator, author and lecturer; Prof. Moshe Kaveh, an internationally renowned physicist who serves as president of Bar-Ilan University; and alumnae Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the city of Efrat and founder of the Ohr Torah Stone educational institutions.

President Joel was the guest of honor at the Distinguished Scholar Applicant Event for high-achieving students currently studying in Israel. This event included a Model Knesset simulation session and a lecture by Dr. Yitzchak Herzog entitled “Does Israel Need a Constitution?”

YU’s first Town Hall Meeting with alumni in Israel was held on January 23rd. President Joel reported on YU’s increasing involvement in Israel and invited suggestions from alumni as to how their former university can become even more engaged in day-to-day life in Israel.

President Joel also met with students in one-year or two-year Torah study programs (including Midreshet Lindenbaum and Toras Shraga) to help recruit for Yeshiva University’s undergraduate programs in New York.


Jan 27, 2006 — Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and its Manhattan hospital affiliate, Beth Israel Medical Center, have found that a specific mutation in a single gene is a major cause of Parkinson’s disease among Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. The report will appear in the January 26 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Like the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations for breast cancer, this finding will directly affect the way Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed in Ashkenazi Jews,” says Dr. Susan B. Bressman, senior investigator of the report, who also is Chairperson of Neurology at Beth Israel, as well as Professor and Vice Chair of Neurology at Einstein. “It also emphasizes the benefit of focusing genetic studies in a specific ethnic group, even with regard to a disease not thought to be primarily genetic in origin.”

“Up until now, genetic counseling for Parkinson’s disease hasn’t really been considered,” adds study co-author Dr. Laurie J. Ozelius, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics at Einstein. “Our finding should bring genetic counseling for Parkinson’s disease to the forefront along with genetic testing for early detection of Parkinson’s disease.”

The researchers focused on a gene called LRRK2, which is mutated in about 1% of late-onset non-familial cases of Parkinson’s disease in those patients who are primarily of European ancestry. Their study involved 120 unrelated Ashkenazi Jewish Parkinson’s disease patients who had been seen as outpatients at Beth Israel’s neurology department and screened for the gene.

For comparison, a control group of 317 Ashenazi Jews who did not have Parkinson’s disease was also studied. DNA was extracted from white blood cells or cheek cells of all the study participants and analyzed for mutations.

The G2019S mutation—the most common of several possible LRRK2 mutations—was detected in 18.3 percent (22 out of 120) of the Ashkenazi Jewish Parkinson’s patients compared with only 1.3 percent (4 out of 317) of control patients.

The mutation’s role was even more dramatic when the 120 Parkinson’s disease patients were divided into those (37) with a family history of the disease (defined as having at least one affected first, second, or third degree relative) and those (83) with no family history. The G2019S mutation was found in 29.7 percent (11/37) of the familial Parkinson’s cases but also in 13.3 percent (11/83) of so-called sporadic or nonfamilial cases. The frequency of this mutation among Ashkenazi Parkinson’s patients was 15 to 20 times higher than has been reported among patients of European ancestry in general.

In addition to Ashkenazi Jews, the researchers note that a group of North Africans of Arab descent have been found to have a high frequency of this same gene mutation as a cause of Parkinson’s disease. The two groups appear to share the same origin or founder, suggesting a probable Middle Eastern origin for this mutation.

Funding for the study was provided by the Edwin and Caroline Levy Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Inc. and the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to Drs. Bressman and Ozelius, authors on the paper included: Geetha Senthil, Ph.D., Rachel Saunders-Pullman, M.D. M.P.H., Erin Ohmann,B.S., Amanda Deligtisch, M.D., Michele Tagliati, M.D., Ann L. Hunt, D.O., Christine Klein, M.D., Brian Henick, Susan M. Hailpern, M.S., M.P.H., Richard B. Lipton, M.D., Jeannie Soto-Valencia, B.A. and Neil Risch, Ph.D.


Jan 27, 2006 — In a finding that could help prevent some of the worst complications of diabetes, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have uncovered a novel molecular pathway linking high blood-sugar levels to diabetic retinopathy, a serious condition that can lead to blindness.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Michael Brownlee, is the Anita and Jack Saltz Professor of Diabetes Research and director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s International Center for Diabetic Complications at Einstein. The study is published as the cover story in the January 27 issue of Cell.

The study focused on methylglyoxal (MG), a chemical byproduct of the high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) that characterize diabetes. Methylglyoxal builds up inside those cell types that experience diabetic complications. Altered levels of MG have also been implicated in cancer, malaria, kidney failure and other diseases.

Dr. Brownlee had previously shown that hyperglycemia inside cells results in overproduction of the free radical superoxide, which in turn increases levels of the glucose-derived MG. Now, working with retinal cells, he and his colleagues have mapped out the sequence of events by which high MG levels lead to retinal damage.

The researchers found that MG turns on a gene, angiopoitentin-2, that plays a key role in diabetic retinopathy. They further showed that MG switches on angiopoitentin-2 through a novel mechanism: by directly attaching to and inactivating a protein that ordinarily inhibits the gene.

Angiopoitentin-2 produces a protein that destroys small blood vessels in the retina, impairing oxygen delivery. To compensate, the retina spawns new blood vessels—and the growth of these new vessels causes intraretinal bleeding in the diabetic eye that can ultimately lead to blindness. The findings suggest new strategies for combating diabetic retinopathy.

“Based on our findings, we believe that new drugs capable of suppressing MG levels could help to treat or even prevent diabetic retinopathy,” says Dr. Brownlee. “And since abnormal MG metabolism has also been linked to kidney failure, cancer and malaria, we feel that this discovery could have widespread implications as well.”


Jan 22, 2006 — The S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program hosted a career fair at the Renaissance Hotel in Jerusalem to demonstrate how a Yeshiva University education can benefit them.

Students at the many yeshivot and midrashot throughout Israel –– not just those affiliated with the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program –– were invited to the YU Israel career fair, which was co-sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh. Students were welcomed by both Rabbi Yehoshua Fass of Nefesh B’Nefesh and Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel.

When the convention hall doors were opened, the 200 plus students were greeted by representatives of over 25 careers and fields of study. Nearly all of the professionals who contributed their time were alumni of Yeshiva University schools and affiliates. They shared their perspectives as American-born Jews who made aliyah and continued to be successful in their chosen careers in Israel.

The organizers asked the volunteers to share their own personal experiences, explained Stephanie Strauss, an adviser with the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. “The volunteers’ interaction with the students far surpassed our expectations,” Mrs. Strauss said.

The volunteers engaged the students in open discussions about college choices, graduate work, licensing, salary expectations, and aliyah possibilities. “The message was clear and unambiguous,” Mrs. Strauss said. “The place to receive a top notch, well-rounded education is at the YU schools, and that education will ultimately enhance their career choices. “


Jan 22, 2006 — On the evening of January 14, more than 2,000 students, friends, and family participated in this year’s Women’s Choir Competition, “Kol Chatan V’kol Kallah,” co-sponsored by Yeshiva University and Kedma, an international student organization funded by United Jewish Appeal’s Partnership 2000 program.

Thirteen choirs participated this year, representing Midreshet Moriah, Midreshet Lindenbaum, Darchei Bina, Machon Gold, Michlala, Afikei Torah, Baer Miriam, Midreshet Harovah, Midreshet Yeud, Tiferet, Orot Bat Tzion, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, and Shalvim for Women.

Michlalah came in first, followed by Darchei Binah, and Shaalvim in third place. Photos of the event can be viewed here.

The evening was filled with songs of hope for peace in Israel, as well as prayers for unity. The groups are judged on a variety of criteria including song originality, costumes and performance.

The Women’s Choir Competition is a highlight for girls in the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Students attend to see their friends, cheer on their midrashot, and learn about Yeshiva University, said Nava Hyman, admissions coordinator for Women’s Programs at YU in Israel. Stern College for Women Dean Karen Bacon; Geri Mansdorf, associate director of admissions for YU; and Shira Rosenfeld, assistant director for student aid, attended the event.

“The place was just filled with electricity,” Mrs. Hyman said. “The audience participation was phenomenal.”

The Women’s Choir Competition began almost 10 years ago, and has grown exponentially in popularity since then. This year’s competition was held at the Renaissance Hotel.

“It was a beautiful venue,” Mrs. Mansdorf said. “At this time of year we get many parents visiting their children spending the year on the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Both the parents and the students were impressed with the event.”

The proceeds from ticket sales go to Rabbanit Kapach, an Israel Prize winner recognized for her work for underprivileged women. Since the Women’s Choir Competition began, more than $50,000 has been distributed to needy Jerusalem brides, most of whom are orphans.

Mrs. Hyman stressed that the choir competition is a way for students with different interests to show their talents.

“Some students are more academically oriented and some are more artistically inclined. This is a way for the artistic students to showcase their talents.”


Jan 20, 2006 — The AVI CHAI Foundation has renewed funding for The Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies at Stern College for Women for the fifth consecutive year. Begun in 2000, the two-year program, which was initiated and sponsored by an AVI CHAI grant, currently enrolls eighteen women. YU President Richard M. Joel has been instrumental in providing supplemental funding to ensure the program’s success in accommodating increasing student interest.

The Graduate Program provides women the opportunity to continue their study of Talumdic literature beyond college. It is directed toward outstanding students who are committed to pursuing advanced Jewish studies full time. To that end, generous stipends are provided. The AVI CHAI Foundation, a private foundation established in 1984, has two goals: to encourage Jews to become more deeply involved in Jewish learning and observance, and to promote mutual understanding and sensitivity among Jews of different backgrounds.

As part of the educational outreach component, students in the program have given regular shiurim (classes) in Gemara and Halakhah (Jewish law) on the campuses of Columbia University, Queens and Brooklyn Colleges among others. They have served as assistant teachers in Talmud at respected yeshiva high schools in the metropolitan area including Ramaz, Flatbush and Ma’ayanot.

Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry Professor of Jewish History, is director of the program. He notes that graduates of the program have made significant inroads in the community as educators, scholars, and role models. “Our program has produced outstanding women who are trained to master a broad range of Talmudic and halakhic sources,” he said. “They serve both formally and informally as an ever-expanding cadre of women who seek to study Talmud with the high level of scholarship needed to confront the halakhic challenges of life in a modern society.”

A Shabbaton was recently held at The Jewish Center in Manhattan at which 15 Fellows of the program offered shiurim, drashot (sermons) and learning sessions throughout Shabbat. The program was coordinated by Rabbi Shmuel Hain, assistant rabbi of The Jewish Center and assistant director of the program. “We hope to replicate this type of program in leading synagogues in the metropolitan area during the spring semester and beyond,” said Rabbi Hain.

Elana Stein, a PhD candidate at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, delivered a d’var Torah (sermon) in the main sanctuary of The Jewish Center. In addition to numerous educational positions in diverse settings, Ms. Stein teaches a weekly shiur in advanced Talmud at the Columbia Hillel. Pesia Soloveitchik, an honors graduate of Stern College with a degree in chemistry, gave a class in tractate Kiddushin. She has been a member of the YU Atlanta Kollel and is currently an intern at the Beth Din of America.


Jan 10, 2006 — Yeshiva University students who will be in Israel during winter break will interact with former Gush Katif residents as part of “BeLevav Shalem,” a special program sponsored by The Center for the Jewish Future (CJF).

On January 16, students will visit communities displaced from Gush Katif to learn about their situations following the Gaza disengagement. That evening, students are invited to a panel discussion at the Menachem Begin Conference Center that will focus on the social, religious, and emotional aspects of the disengagement.

On January 18, students will volunteer in greenhouses with former residents of Gush Katif. In the evening, participants will have dinner with young Israelis to learn more about the realities of life in Israel.

Students on both the Wilf and Beren campuses of Yeshiva University collected toys for the children of displaced families and will present them to the families during their visit.

“This is a terrific opportunity for Yeshiva University students, no matter their political opinion, to help Jews in need,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of The Center for the Jewish Future. “I am proud of the students who are leading this initiative. Their willingness to use their vacations for such an important event speaks volumes about their commitment to Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the people of Israel).”

The Center for the Jewish Future works with YU’s colleges, schools, and affiliates to shape programs to train Jewish lay and professional leadership, develop initiatives and strengthen existing ones, and deliver services to its students and the broader Jewish communities.


Jan 5, 2006 — For some students, winter break is a time for relaxing after a tough semester. But for many Yeshiva University students, the time will be spent helping people in the United States, Central America and Israel.

Sixteen undergraduate students from YU are traveling with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to Las Bendiciones in Central Honduras in January as part of the university’s first Alternative Break.

Las Bendiciones is a remote village in the province of San Jeronimo with no electricity. The YU group will stay in the village for the week and work alongside community members to build a school. While there, students will interact with the villagers and learn about issues relevant to the developing world. Upon their return, the students will initiate follow-up projects, including fundraising, raising awareness about poverty, AIDS, fair trade, and other issues affecting developing nations.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization that helps thousands of people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas move beyond poverty, illiteracy, disaster, and war.

Twenty students will travel to Germany with YU’s Center for the Jewish Future to meet with Jewish leaders and community members and learn about modern Germany. As part of the German government-sponsored Bridge of Understanding program, students will have an opportunity to experience modern German society, culture and politics first hand.

Students will meet with Jewish communal leaders, rabbis, and German political leaders. They will meet with some of the German students and share programming ideas.

With the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Germany’s Jewish population has risen from about 30,000 in 1990 to about 100,000 in 2000, making it the fastest growing Jewish community worldwide.

YU students and alumni on the Blanche Schreiber Torah Tours will be traveling to three communities to share their Jewish knowledge and enthusiasm for learning. Groups will visit Beit David Highland Lakes Synagogue and Hillel community day school in South Florida; The Westwood Kehilla, Links Kollel and the UCLA community in Los Angeles; and Brith Sholom Beth Israel in Charleston, SC.

The Torah Tours groups will develop one-on-one learning programs, lead lunch-and-learn sessions, and run other programs to enhance the Jewish learning in the communities they are visiting.

The program in Charleston is an outgrowth of past Torah Tours. The community asked The Center for the Jewish Future to create a new “Commuting Kollel,” where students from YU will visit the community twice a month to engage the community. See the related story here.

Finally, YU students who will be in Israel over winter break are encouraged to participate in “BeLevav Shalem,” a special program sponsored by The Center for the Jewish Future that focuses on the disengagement from Gaza and provides a greater understanding of contemporary Israeli society.

On the first day, students will visit communities displaced from Gush Katif to learn about their situations following the disengagement from Gaza.

That evening, students are invited to a panel discussion at the Menachem Begin Conference Center that will focus on the social, religious, and emotional aspects of the disengagement.

On the second day, students will volunteer in greenhouses and communal settings. Participants will have dinner that evening at the Renaissance Hotel with Israelis, where they will have an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Israel.

“These programs can be transformational,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future. “Such activities allow our students to realize the opportunities they have to change the world.


Dana Glasner participated in three research projects over the past three years.

Jan 5, 2006 — The many hours spent in laboratories over the past three summers paid off for Dana Glasner, a Stern College senior, when she was recently named an Outstanding Undergraduate Award finalist for 2006 by the Computing Research Association, a group of academics, companies, laboratories, and government bodies engaged in computer science research in North America.

Ms. Glasner, a native of State College, PA, was recognized for her significant contributions to three different research projects completed over the past three years.

“I didn’t expect to be nominated let alone be named as a finalist,” said Ms. Glasner. “The news came as a great surprise.”

Margaret Wright, PhD, chair of the computer science department at New York University, where the Stern student is taking part of her computer science major, nominated her for the award.

Since last summer she has been working with Yevgeniy Dodis, PhD, assistant professor of computer science at NYU, on using biometric data, for example fingerprints or retina scans, in cryptographic applications, such as password authentication.

In the summer of 2004, she researched genomics (the study of an organism’s genome and the use of the genes) and bioinformatics (the use of computer science to solve biological problems) at Princeton University under the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

Before that, she researched the geometric properties of metal nanoparticles with Anatoly Frenkel, PhD, associate professor of physics at Stern, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, continuing that research during the year.

The S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program student said that her internships had helped her identify the area of computer science she is most interested in, cryptography. She is applying to graduate schools, where she plans to specialize in that field.


Jan 5, 2006 — Students and alumni of Yeshiva University (YU) and its affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) under the direction of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) will bring their Jewish knowledge and enthusiasm for learning to The Westwood Kehilla, Links Kollel and the UCLA community in January.

As part of the annual Blanche Schreiber Torah Tours, groups visit different communities during the school’s winter break to teach classes and enrich Jewish life.

From January 16 through 22, YU groups will study with kollel students in the mornings, hold lunch-and-learn sessions in the afternoons, and organize a one-on-one learning program at the Hillel on the UCLA campus.

The YU group will spend Shabbat at UCLA and take part in a joint Westwood Kehilla/UCLA seudah shlishit (third meal).

“I am excited to see my students from YULA (Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles) develop, mature, and want to give back to the community,” said Rabbi Asher Brander, spiritual leader of the Westwood Kehilla. “We’re happy to see that YU understands they have a tremendous opportunity to give back to the general Jewish community.”

“Through Torah Tours, CJF serves the greater community and inspires young scholars to take their knowledge outside the classroom,” said CJF Dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Rabbi Asher Brander’s brother. “The program allows students to take an activist role in the community.”

The Center for the Jewish Future works with YU’s colleges, schools, and affiliates to shape programs that train Jewish lay and professional leadership, develop initiatives and strengthen existing ones, as well as deliver services to its students and the Jewish community at large.

Torah Tours sponsors more than 125 programs around the world during the year, including holidays, as well as winter and summer breaks. To participate in future Torah Tours, contact CJF at 212-960-0041.