Yeshiva University News » 2009 » May » 27

Chava Chaitovsky (L) and Dena Katz (R) will be at Houston’s Ahavat Yisrael synagogue. Four other scholars will be in residence at synagogues in Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring, MD.

May 27, 2009 — This Shavuot, a group of young Jewish women, all advanced scholars in Talmud, will serve as scholars-in-residence at synagogues in Houston, Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring, MD, as part of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.

The women will deliver lectures on Torah and Halakha [Jewish law] to adults and teens.

Dena Katz and Chava Chaitovsky will be at Houston’s Ahavat Yisrael synagogue and Malka Adatto, Vera Wexler, Talia Cottrell and Rebecca Winter will be assigned to National Synagogue of Washington, D.C., with Adatto and Winter also teaching at Ahavas Torah of Silver Spring, MD.

The young women are all either enrolled in or are graduates of Stern College for Women’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS), which develops an elite cadre of female scholars of Talmud and Halakha.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative, made possible in part by a grant from the Covenant Foundation, offers Orthodox women a comprehensive and structured process of leadership development within the Jewish community through mentorships, professional training and a wide-range of activities and programs designed to engender a sense of empowerment and communal responsibility.

The objective is that they will assume professional or lay leadership roles within the Jewish community.

“There is a need within the Jewish community for talented, well-educated female role models,” said Daphne Fishman Secunda, director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. “Our goal is to both inspire new leadership and to create new opportunities.”

As part of the initiative, a select group of students, known as Women’s Leadership Fellows, are exposed to female Jewish leadership models in various professional and lay capacities. Fellows hoping to enter Jewish professional fields attend seminars throughout the year on a wide array of topics, such as public speaking, adult education, communal counseling and shiur [lecture] organization.

“As women play leadership roles that are on par with men in the corporate world, it has become increasingly imperative that young women are encouraged to pursue leadership roles in our community,” said Rabbi Ari Segal, head of school at the Robert M. Beren Academy, which serves the same community as Ahavat Yisrael in Houston. “If these women are not shown an equally engaging and empowering notion of Judaism, they will be left with an imbalanced perspective of what Judaism has to offer.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld ’95Y, ’99R, of the National Synagogues, said his congregation was excited to learn that the women were coming to D.C. “These women serve as positive role models, demonstrating that an Orthodox woman can be a spiritual and intellectual leader in an Orthodox setting,” Rabbi Herzfeld said.


May 27, 2009 — The usual academic demands of graduate study were compounded for Younghee “Frida” Seo, a South Korean native who recently graduated with a master’s degree from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology’s Mental Health Counseling Program. She struggled with her English and with adjusting to a different culture; she was homesick for South Korea.

But Seo persevered, and thrived. Most notably, she established a new internship last June at the Asian Outreach Clinic of the Child Center of New York in Queens, doing much-needed work with Korean immigrants suffering from ADHD, depression and other mental health issues, and with children exposed to violence.

When Seo graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul in 2006, her professor suggested studying in the U.S.

“Experiencing the diverse culture in New York City sounded very interesting to me,” she said.

At first, Seo lived in Little Italy in the Bronx, “enjoying the fantastic Italian and Mexican food.” When she did her internship in Flushing, in an Asian-friendly neighborhood, she felt less homesick.

Professor William Bracero’s course on “Multicultural and Diversity Issues in Mental Health Counseling” opened her eyes, Seo said. “Listening to his lectures, I thought that I am not alone, as most migrant groups have undergone similar experiences in life–even harsher.” In Professor Irene Javors’ counseling skills and techniques class, Seo found inspiration for dealing with her clients’ issues at the Queens clinic.

Now that she has her degree, she hopes to continue her training in this country and eventually return to Korea as a mental health counselor.

Next profile: Ferkauf doctoral graduate saw Sichaun earthquake as a call to action


May 27, 2009 — Two Yeshiva University graduation ceremonies at Madison Square Garden, a performance at the 92nd Street Y and numerous singing engagements on and off campus: that’s Yeshiva University a cappella group the Maccabeats’ brief résumé since forming two years ago. Sensing the need to bring music to the Wilf Campus, the group of 12 young men, all undergraduate students, has become a popular mainstay on campus.

As a high school student, Michael Greenberg participated in Yeshivah of Flatbush’s successful performing arts programs. Upon entering Yeshiva College last year, Greenberg and his friends worked diligently with student leaders to establish the Maccabeats. They were quickly embraced by the YU community.

“The student body as well as President Richard Joel have been great sources of positive feedback,” said Greenberg who hopes to one day partner with the University to record a CD.

This year, the Maccabeats have increased the number of their performances, attracting overwhelmingly positive reactions from their audiences. “After each performance, I have been approached by several people with compliments and praise for the group,” Josh Jay, another member of the group, said. “At graduation, people cheered for us before we walked on stage.”

Besides Greenberg and Jay, the current Maccabeats—most of them members of the founding group—are Chanina Abramowitz, David Block, Julian Horowitz, Ari Lewis, Jeff Ritholtz, Buri Rosenberg, Yona Saperstein, Immanuel Shalev, Meir Shapiro and Yonatan Shefa.

Most of the Maccabeats’ repertoire consists of Hebrew psalms and prayers. What makes them such a hit with audiences is that the familiar lyrics have been set to some surprising tunes, such as L’cha Dodi sung to the tune of Hallelujah as performed by Leonard Cohen. “My hope is that we can give our audience the same feeling and spiritual high that we experience when we sing,” said Block. “It’s a prayer, both for us and for our listeners!”

Perhaps the most telling sign of the Maccabeats’ popularity came on May 13 as students were in the midst of buckling down for final exams. The group offered them a study break performance in the Morgenstern Hall Lounge. “The concert was a huge success,” Ritholtz said. “Students took time out of their finals studying to come watch us perform, which was really exhilarating.”


May 27, 2009 — Fresh from his year-long world tour performing to sell-out audiences, renowned mentalist Dr. Marc Salem beguiled the crowd of over 100 undergraduate students with his ‘mind-reading’ techniques at a student council-sponsored event on May 12.

A Yeshiva College graduate, Salem’s uncanny abilities have landed him appearances on The O’Reilly Factor, The Montel Williams Show, The Maury Show, 60 Minutes and CNN. He has had two network television specials and is a regular guest on Court TV.

Watch a video clip from his show at YU.

But behind his popular acclaim is a highly advanced ability to read people’s physical language and detect lies honed over 30 years. Salem holds advanced degrees from New York University and the University of Pennsylvania and has been on the faculty of several major universities for close to two decades. He has used his unique skills to consult for police forces all over the globe as well as in the courtroom.

“It is verbally impossible to lie,” Salem said as he continuously educated students about the techniques he was using to read minds in the crowd.

He wowed the YU audience with his ability to read nonverbal cues. From among a group of five randomly selected students who were asked to draw sketches, Salem correctly identified which student drew each sketch, based on their responses. He performed several other seemingly psychic acts, such as identifying people’s personal belongings based on their tone of voice and pitch.

The students were vividly entertained; but the performance was about more than an opportunity to de-stress as they approached the heat of final exams. The event was organized as a fund raiser for the David Rottenstreich z’’l Memorial Sefer Torah Fund established in the memory of the Yeshiva College student who succumbed to sudden illness on April 7.

“Although Rotty would no longer be here in person, we could not let his spirit leave,” said YC sophomore Marc Zeffren, a close friend of David. “One of his most distinct qualities was his fantastic middos [character] and love for Torah. We therefore responded by starting a project that fit Rotty’s qualities perfectly.”

Upon hearing about the campaign for a sefer Torah [Torah scroll] written in Rottenstreich’s memory, the student councils hit upon the idea of bringing Salem to campus. “We knew that his performance would bring some happiness to the students at a dark time as well as help the fund reach its goal,” Rafi Katz vice president of the Yeshiva Student Union, said.

“When Marc Salem heard about this tragic news immediately after Pesach, he decreased his rate substantially and was steadfast in helping the YU community recuperate from its loss,” Katz said. The event raised over $1,600 for the campaign.

To find out about Torah learning opportunities in David Rottenstreich’s memory or to donate to the sefer Torah fund, go to


May 27, 2009 — When Sam Blass began studying protein crystallization with Dr. Neer Asherie, assistant professor of physics and biology, the Yeshiva College undergraduate became so enamored with nanotechnology that he decided to major in chemistry instead of his previous pre-med track.

Now, after three years of research with faculty, including his mentor, Dr. Asherie, and Dr. Anatoly Frenkel, Stern College for Women professor of physics, Blass will enter the PhD program in materials science at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities this fall.

“All those hours in the lab made me want to do more of this,” said Blass.
At Minnesota he’ll be studying both chemical engineering and materials science–the “study of any material – solid, circuits, concretes, metals,” Blass explained. “It’s very interdisciplinary, which is what attracted me to it.”

The Paramus, NJ, resident was one of four scholars awarded the first annual Henry Kressel Research Scholarship, a fellowship established to perpetuate YU’s student research community, in 2008. He was also one of four students across the country selected to participate in NASA’s Undergraduate Student Research Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he studied carbon nanotubes in fall 2007.

To top all that, Blass received a prestigious National Science Foundation fellowship, which provides a $30,000 stipend plus extra money for expenses to study with a mentor in graduate school for three years.

“Graduate school will give me the opportunity to pursue research ideas for a longer time,” Blass said. “Hopefully resulting in more publications and a greater sense of independence.”

As for his future career? “Right now I’m thinking of going into industry, but that can change to government or academia…”

For a bright chemistry student, the world is full of possibilities.

Next profile: Grace Charles, valedictorian of Stern College, pursues dream of becoming a medical doctor