Some couples alternate taking out the garbage, others rotate the laundry schedule, a careful dance of your turn, my turn. For Jill Joshowitz ’13S, ’15BR and Jonathan (Yoni) Zisook ’13YC, ’13BR, that marital two-step crosses borders—and continents.
Both Jill and Yoni are working toward obtaining their doctorates—she in Jewish history, he in sociology—and both were awarded prestigious Fulbright awards. So, after spending 10 months in Poland at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where Yoni conducted his research, they recently landed in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, where Jill will continue hers.
Pursuing a PhD in sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Yoni received a Fulbright Dissertation Fellowship to research Jewish and Holocaust memory in Poland. Through interviews (he reads and speaks Polish), newspaper articles, political speeches and statistical analysis, he spent last year exploring how the Holocaust and Jewish culture/history are instrumentalized in Central-Eastern Europe. After accompanying her husband to Poland, Jill, who is working toward a PhD in Jewish history at New York University (she specializes in late antique Jewish art in the eastern Mediterranean), is spending this year at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, conducting research for her dissertation on representation of biblical figures in late antique synagogue art, thanks to a Fulbright Fellowship.
While both are Yeshiva University alumni, the couple first connected at Princeton University during the summer of 2011, when they both attended the Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought.
“When we returned to school in the fall, we started dating and got married in 2014,” says Jill, a Pittsburgh native and third-generation YU alum. Her grandfather, Myer Senders ’46YC; mother, Linda Senders Joshowitz ’85S; and father, James H. Joshowitz ’84YC are proud graduates, as are several of her siblings. “My parents always said if you could go to Harvard or YU, we’d want you to go to YU,” Jill says.
Her interest in archaeology was piqued after her seminary year in Israel. “I stayed on and did an archaeological dig in Jerusalem with the University of North Carolina,” says Jill. “I came to Stern looking to pursue an archaeology and art history course of study.”
When she learned that the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies offered a fellowship to participate in a dig in Northern Israel with Hebrew University, she applied and won the grant. The professor on that dig is now her faculty mentor as she conducts research for her dissertation. “The grant I secured and the contacts I made through YU back then led to the connection to the faculty member sponsoring my Fulbright this year,” she explains.
Jill points to the support and enthusiasm of the faculty at Stern College for Women and Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies as motivational and inspirational. “They were so supportive of my pursuing a graduate degree,” she recalls. “My professors were very encouraging about a female student going on to pursue a doctorate, especially in the field of Jewish studies.”
Yoni also credits his professors with the kind of encouragement that guided him to his current pursuits.
“Not only is the faculty at Yeshiva College exceptional, you really get a lot of attention in the smaller classes. You can develop relationships that you might not be able to establish at a larger university, and this prepared me very well for graduate school,” says Yoni, who grew up in Seattle and Chicago. Among others, he names Dr. Jeffrey Gurock, the Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, as one professor who encouraged him to pursue doctoral work in the sociology of American Jewry.
His father, Kenneth Zisook ’75A, ’78R, received semicha [rabbinic ordination] at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theologcial Seminary and served as a rabbi in the U.S. Army for 20 years. “I think his serving as a chaplain in the army influenced me in many positive ways, including the ability to travel to different places and integrate into different cultures.”
Yoni and Jill had a taste of that integration in Poland. They were involved with Krakow’s small but resurgent Jewish community, attending a daily minyan he calls “not large, but active.” Some are Holocaust survivors and others are children and grandchildren of survivors who have rediscovered their Jewish roots.
“It’s not taboo to be Jewish, there is a freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and there is access to more information,” explains Yoni, who was on the faculty of history at the Institute of Jewish Studies at Jagiellonian University. The Institute has about 40 graduates each year—almost exclusively non-Jews. “The faculty is almost exclusively non-Jewish. I’ve met graduates that speak fluent Hebrew.”
After the year in Israel, the couple plans to return to New York to complete their PhDs and hopes to eventually land positions somewhere close to family. Pittsburgh? Chicago? Perhaps they’ll take turns.