Alumni Practitioners Bolster YU Academic Experience as Members of the Faculty
A number of Yeshiva University alumni who have achieved success in their respective fields are giving back to YU as members of the faculty. These accomplished professionals enrich the academic curriculum with their real-world experience and guide students by sharing their formal knowledge, tested skills and impressive network.
YU News spoke with several alumni currently serving as adjuncts about their unique teaching styles and why they’re passionate about paying it forward in the class room.
Laizer Kornwasser ’92SB teaches entrepreneurial leadership and managing a growing business, and Daniel Posner ’91YC, co-chief investment officer and co-founder of AB Energy Opportunities, offers a class in “Hedge Fund Strategies.”
Kornwasser and Posner employ similar methods in their classes, blending case studies, simulations, site visits and a series of lectures from a roster of industry leaders. Kornwasser has hosted Max Levchin (co-founder of PayPal and Affirm) and Melissa Ben Ishay (founder and CEO of Baked by Melissa) and Posner has invited Gill Ottensoser ’92YC (partner, Shorebridge Capital) and Ivona Smith (Principal, Drivetrain Advisors), among others.
Kornwasser, who is also a board member of Yeshiva University, Sy Syms School of Business and Yeshiva University High Schools, came back to YU to teach after a career that included investment banking and serving as a Fortune 500 senior executive because he is “passionate about giving back to the students and helping an institution that has helped me tremendously.”
For Posner, there is a great satisfaction in having former students tell him, “how the course helped them make career decisions and how their careers have progressed, many of them influenced by the guest lecturers.”
Ari Hirt ’88YC, managing director of The Debt & Equity Finance Group at Mission Capital Advisors, takes his students through the intricate world of real estate in “Real Estate Management,” a course so popular that he had to increase the class size for this spring semester to accommodate demand.
Like Kornwasser and Posner, Hirt uses multiple teaching methods. His primary approach is a combination of Harvard Business School case studies and examples from transactions he has worked on. He also brings students to sites to see buildings under construction and invites five to six speakers to address his students. Last semester’s guests included Eli Unger (a founder of Antheus Capital), David Lichtenstein (founder and CEO of The Lightstone Group), Atit Jariwala (CEO of Bridgeton Holdings) and Shimmie Horn ’93YC, ’96C (president and CEO of Triumph Hospitality).
Hirt is also founder and co-chair of the Yeshiva University Real Estate Executive Circle, a group of YU alumni real estate executives, formed to increase annual giving and provide alumni and friends with exclusive access to high-level networking opportunities. “My teaching and my alumni work have been very rewarding. YU has been a home for me and my family, and just as you would do anything for a family member, I want to do whatever I can to help the University.”
Joel Strauss ’86YC, a partner at Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP, and Adina Levine (nee Rydzinski) ’02S, ’03A, an associate at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, offer courses in the law at Stern College for Women, and together they present powerful examples of professional Orthodox women engaged in the legal profession.
Strauss has taught “Essentials of the U.S. Legal System” for the past five years in the political science department. He specifically brings in Stern College alumnae to guest lecture on the law, including Ilana Blass ’95S, ’03C , the primary manager of the commercial and matrimonial din Torah (arbitration) caseload of the Beth Din of America; Ilana Kopmar ’88S, from the Legal Aid of Society of Nassau County; and Tova Simpson ’08SB, assistant district attorney for Nassau County.
“Hearing from these women is one of the things that the students always love about the course,” said Strauss. “They get to meet prosecutors or legal aid lawyers or defense attorneys who have achieved success in their respective fields but who can also share their unique perspectives on navigating the profession while adhering to their Orthodox lifestyles at the same time.”
Levine began teaching at Stern College in 2009 and over the last nine years, has created a variety of courses in American law, including “Women and the Law” and “Constitutional Law,” as well as honors courses analyzing American and Talmudic law.
This spring, Levine is offering “Women and the Law” again, an especially relevant course given the current cultural conversation about gender discrimination and sexual harassment. “We will explore how the legal system can critically affect the opportunities and status of women in society, as well as address different feminist legal theories on how best to reduce gender bias.”
To help them navigate this landscape, she has her students use feminist theory to understand gender as a social and cultural construct that blends into other constructs such as race, ethnicity and class to shape the structure and interpretation of laws. “To balance out the theory, I also incorporate anecdotes from my real-world experiences into the classroom to give students a flavor of what it is to be a practicing litigation female attorney in New York.”
She loves teaching at Stern College and views her courses “as an opportunity to mentor students and show them that there are opportunities in law to continue the Torah Umadda mantra and to provide a living example of an intellectual woman operating in the professional world who is still deeply religiously committed.”
Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt ’12S is the features/life editor at the Forward, editing and publishing daily feature stories on faith, family, style, food, travel and tech. As a journalist and creative writer, she has had bylines in The New York Times, Tablet, Salon and Haaretz, and recognition for her fiction from publications like The Atlantic Monthly and Moment Magazine.
In 2016, she taught a course in “Features Writing” at Stern College, the same course which had inspired her as a student to pursue a career in journalism, and this semester she’s teaching “Columns and Editorials.”
“Because journalism has changed so drastically, I draw heavily on whatever I am learning day-to-day in the Forward newsroom: journalistic excellence, editorial management, audience engagement. I want to ensure that my students are well prepared for the real world.
“I loved my years at Stern,” Chizhik-Goldschmidt added, “and I am excited by the prospect of teaching young Jewish women how to speak their minds,” which she does by “getting them out of the classroom with a notepad and recorder, putting their feet on the ground, and having them just start reporting.”
Teaching at YU “has been extremely rewarding, intellectually stimulating and meaningful. I now understand the wisdom in the Talmudic saying that one learns the most from one’s own students.”
As Chizhik-Goldschmidt says, the alumni teachers are giving back to YU because they want to support an institution that supported them as they started their professional journeys. They are also part of a powerful and growing network of alumni dedicated to helping the University, whether it be by teaching, recruiting students, sharing their positive YU experiences with the community or fundraising. Just as importantly, their involvement adds value to a YU education by connecting students—past, present and future—with highly regarded individuals from every imaginable profession both inside and outside the classroom.
“The alumni network is tremendously important,” said Kornwasser, “because being able to access this network of friends and others who went to YU to make the first-level intros for my students gives them an important advantage.”
Strauss added that “my teaching allows me to help out with my other volunteer work with YU. Listening to the problems and issues of the students is a way for alumni to be fully engaged with the University again. It allows us to be better volunteers and better ambassadors for the school.”