By Sam Gelman
Communications and Program Officer
Every year, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought welcomes a new cohort of Straus Scholars, incoming Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women students who demonstrate high academic achievement, leadership potential and commitment to studying the great works of the Jewish and Western tradition.
This year’s group hails from all across the country—from New Jersey to Massachusetts to California—and plans on studying a multitude of topics, including political science, biology and computer science. Learn more about them below.
Ruchama Benhamou, who commonly goes by Ru, is originally from Miami, Florida. She moved to Los Angeles for high school, attending YULA Girls High School, where she rose to be captain of both the flag football and soccer teams and was awarded the 2020 CIF Comeback Player of the Year Award. She also served as editor of her school newspaper, chief editor of the yearbook and volunteered for Yachad, experiences that taught her the importance of leadership, problem solving and planning ahead. She is passionate about STEM and is excited to pursue a career in science while also studying in-depth philosophy and liberal arts in the Straus Scholars Program.
Daniel Ganopolsky was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence, New York in 2019. While there, he was the captain of the debate and model congress team, as well as a member of the mock trial team. In high school, Daniel started the Israel Today newspaper, a bi-weekly publication focusing on current events in Israel, and served as president of the Israel Action Committee. He spent two years studying at Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah in Israel, where he focused on Jewish studies, philosophy, and physics. While studying in Migdal, he participated in the Tikvah Overseas Students Institute, focusing on the political, economic, and moral dilemmas Jews face in the modern era. Daniel enjoys working behind the scenes, observing the political process unfold on a grassroots level. He lobbied on Capitol Hill with AIPAC and NORPAC multiple times throughout high school. He also worked as a campaign staff member for Michael Grimm and Steve Saperstein during their election campaigns. Daniel is very excited to join the Straus Scholars Program, where he plans to major in economics and political science.
Noam Mayerfeld was born in New York City and moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, at the age of five. He graduated from MTA/YUHSB, where he served as captain of the mock trial and debate teams and helped plan MTA’s annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. as a member of his school’s political action club devoted to U.S.-Israel relations. Through these experiences, Noam developed his passion for thoughtful discussions about contemporary issues. After graduation, Noam spent two years in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh (KBY), where he devoted himself to the intense study of Torah. He spent his past few summers as a counselor at Camp Kaylie and as a madrich (advisor) at NCSY Kollel. Noam is keeping an open mind about his area of study and is looking forward to spending his time with the Straus Center, studying God’s will as seen through the lens of the 21st century and contemporary philosophy.
Allie Orgen was born and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. She is a graduate of The Frisch School, where she spent four years involved in Israel activism and advocacy. She was president of Cougars for Israel, founded the Israel Journal, and attended multiple AIPAC leadership conferences as the Frisch campus representative. Allie spent a year learning in Midreshet Harova in Israel, where she was selected to join the first AIPAC gap-year cohort. She also helped spearhead the Bergen County Unite for Israel Parade. Allie spent two years interning for Congressman Josh Gottheimer and worked on the campaign for the winning slate of candidates in the 2020 Teaneck municipal elections. Allie loves chessed and has participated in various Friendship Circle activities, went on a mission to Detroit to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and took part in the Teaneck Adopt-a-Senior program at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Allie looks forward to joining the Straus Center and learning to bridge her love of law and politics with Jewish thought.
Yonatan Kurz grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, and attended Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), where he was captain of the College Bowl and History Bowl teams, editor-in-chief of the Israel Report, and a member of the Honors Society. After studying for two years at Yeshivat Sha’alvim in Nof Ayalon, Israel, Yonatan is currently pursuing a double major in political science and Jewish studies with a minor in psychology at Yeshiva University as a fourth-generation student, in addition to learning in Rav Michael Rosensweig’s shiur. He is a YU Political Science Society member, a contributing writer to The Commentator, and has published several articles and essays on YUTorah. In his summers, Yonatan has been a madrich (advisor) on NCSY Kollel and also served as a legal research intern for the Orthodox Union’s general counsel. He is also a Shevet Glaubach Fellow for NCSY and a member of the Tikvah Collegiate Forum. Yonatan is passionate about the foundation and evolution of Modern Orthodoxy and the future of Judaism in America. In his free time, Yonatan enjoys learning Torah, exercising, reading books about American history and social science, and exploring the depths of modern Jewish thought.
Jennifer Peled is from Los Angeles, California. She attended YULA Girls high school, where she served as senior class president, captain of the Model United Nations team, mock trial, Moot Beit Din, robotics club, and varsity track teams, and board president of Yachad LA. After graduation, she attended Midreshet Harova and took classes at the Tikvah Overseas Institute. She continues to serve as a member of the Tikvah Collegiate Forum. Jennifer spends her summers working with Yachad, serving as a counselor for adults with disabilities. In the fall, she plans to major in mathematics with a concentration in computer science.
Jacob Sundel is from Boston, Massachusetts. In 2019, he graduated from Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael as an AP Scholar with Honor. While in high school, Jacob was a captain of the basketball team, a member of the Model Beis Din team, and recipient of the Rose Ruderman Scholar Award. Following high school, Jacob spent two years learning in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh (KBY) in Israel. Jacob is also an Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 54 of Brookline, Massachusetts. For his Eagle Scout Project, Jacob started a Yachad chapter in his high school. Jacob enjoys dedicating his time to causes that help people with special needs, like participating twice in the Friendship Circle Bike Miami and being a counselor in Camp Kaylie.
Racheli Gottesman grew up in Woodmere, New York, and graduated from Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) in 2020. During her time at HAFTR, Racheli served as captain of the speech team, volleyball team, and Shakespeare team, and competed as a member of the Torah Bowl, debate, Model Congress, and Model United Nations teams. Additionally, Racheli acted in several theater productions, both in school and community theater, and served as an officer of HAFTR’s Thespian Honors Society. Racheli has interned as a journalist for The Nassau Herald. She spent two summers as a counselor for Yachad and a summer learning and teaching Torah as a member of Camp Moshava’s Beit Midrash program. She recently spent a year learning in Israel at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY) and participated in the Tikvah Overseas Student Institute.