Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

With more than 150 alumni in an array of professional and communal careers and 15 stellar new graduates taking the reins this fall, Yeshiva University’s Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Presidential Fellows 2013 Group

The highly competitive program was established by President Richard M. Joel in 2004, shortly after his arrival at YU, with the goal of transforming the University into a leadership incubator for the Jewish people. Under the supervision of YU Senior Vice President Rabbi Josh Joseph, the Fellowship places accomplished top-level YU graduates in key departments and schools throughout the institution, where they develop and oversee thoughtful and innovative projects to improve the University. They also receive close mentorship from senior University staff and cultivate a broad knowledge base and skill set to engage with the larger Jewish community.

“When I started the Fellowship, I knew it was a win-win,” said President Joel. “On the one hand, some of our best and brightest students would maintain their direct involvement with this institution and benefit it in wondrous ways, and more importantly, these budding young professionals would receive challenging and meaningful experience in the field of Jewish organizational work which would launch them in the careers and personal paths of their choice. Ten years later, the Presidential Fellowship, under the guidance of Rabbi Joseph and Allison Rubin, has achieved all of that and so much more.”

PRJ with Fellows

President Joel leads a weekly leadership seminar, a critical component of the Fellowship.

Aliza Abrams, director of the Department of Jewish Service Learning at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, began her career in Jewish communal work as a member of the Fellowship’s second cohort. Placed in the CJF, she was offered a fulltime position there upon completion of her Fellowship year. “Over the last eight years I have continued to grow in the organization, becoming the youngest senior staff member,” said Abrams, now a Fellowship mentor in her own right. “The mentors and experiences I had throughout my Fellowship opened my eyes to the wonderful world of Jewish communal work and leadership.”

In addition to her position at the CJF, Abrams was also selected to become a Wexner Graduate Fellow this year. The competitive fellowship supports leadership development for Jewish communal professionals in the field and in graduate school. “I would not be where I am today if it had not been for the relationships and skills I developed as a Presidential Fellow,” said Abrams.

Anosh Zaghi completed his Fellowship in the same CJF department last year before beginning his studies at Yale Law School this fall. “The Presidential Fellowship challenged me to think seriously about my passions and career goals for the first time in my life,” he said. “It gave me the structure and support I needed to reflect on what I wanted to contribute to the world.”

This year’s Presidential Fellows are Mordechai Czarka of Chicago, IL; Shara Feltheimer, Dani Schoenfeld and David Berger of Long Island, NY; Yitzy Frankel of Los Angeles, CA; Danny Goldberg of St. Louis, MO; Malkie Krieger of Monroe, NY; Talia Lautman and David Muller of Cleveland, OH; Adam Neuman and Meirah Shedlo of Baltimore, MD;  Marganit Rauch of London, UK; Elia Rackovsky of Rochester, NY; Joanna Ross-Tash of Indianapolis, IN; and Michali Sturm of Toronto, ON.

Rackovsky is working in the Office of Institutional Research. As an undergraduate he majored in music at Yeshiva College while pursuing his interests in science as a school leader for Project START! Science, a student-led initiative enabling YU students to teach science modules to local underserved public high schools. In his new position, Rackovsky will collect and analyze the data that drives decision-making processes within YU. “Even though I’m no longer a student, I feel that as a Fellow, one of my foremost responsibilities is to never stop learning, whether from my supervisors, colleagues, students or other Fellows,” he said.

PRJIn addition to their departmental mentors and weekly graduate seminars with leaders from many backgrounds, including philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Ronald Stanton, author A.J. Jacobs and human rights activist Brooke Goldstein, Presidential Fellows benefit from the guidance of communal lay leaders as well. “The opportunity to cultivate a personal connection with people who have been successful in their careers and heavily involved in their communities is an invaluable chance to learn from their experience,” said Rackovsky, who hopes to pursue a career in medicine. “I’m grateful for their perspective as I build my own future.”

The Fellowship also enables participants to hone professional career skills in a challenging but familiar work environment. Joanna Ross-Tash majored in art history at Stern College for Women, perfect preparation for her new role at the Yeshiva University Museum. “I loved my time at Stern and wanted the opportunity to highlight to the student community the cultural and educational significance of our museum,” she said. To that end, Ross-Tash will work on a variety of projects in the Museum’s education, administrative and curatorial departments, in addition to involving more undergraduates in the Museum and encouraging patronage. “I’m most excited for the seminars and to meet so many successful professionals,” she said. “I also look forward to working the exceptional group of people in my cohort.”

Berger decided to apply for the Fellowship so he could help shape the Center for the Jewish Future missions he attended as an undergraduate. In the CJF’s Department of Jewish Service Learning, he’ll be doing just that as he organizes missions to destinations around the world. “I’m hoping to pursue a PhD in political science and feel this is a great place to gain important skills along the way,” Berger said.

For Sturm, a marketing graduate of the Sy Syms School of Business now working in the Office of Student Life, nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing the difference she is already making in students’ lives. “I worked a lot on Orientation and I loved seeing the reactions of students to the little things we did to make their experience better,” she said. Sturm feels the Fellowship will help her grow in new ways. “From kicking off our year at the ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference to the daily mentorship of Rabbi Joseph and [Fellowship Coordinator] Allison Rubin, so much is invested in us,” she said.

“Even though each Fellow carves out his or her own experience, it’s clear that both individually and collectively, this program shapes Yeshiva’s present and our community’s future,” said Rabbi Joseph.