By Sarah Wapner,
Straus Center Impact and Recruitment Officer
Born and raised in New Rochelle, New York, Judah Fortgang attended SAR High School and spent a year studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion in the Gush. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he intended to study political science. However, after his first year in the Windy City, Fortgang transferred to Yeshiva University, where he joined the Straus Scholars Program at the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.
“I joined the Straus Scholars Program because I was looking to enhance my studies in political philosophy with the Jewish perspective on the Great Books,” Fortgang explained. “I remember sitting in a seminar at UChicago, and I proposed a comparison between Machiavelli and King David. I got blank stares; no one knew what I was talking about. These are the kinds of conversations I can have at the Straus Center, in a small cohort setting with extensive mentorship and professional development opportunities available to me.”
Now in his final year at Yeshiva University, Fortgang is pursuing a degree in political theory and American political economy. As a Straus Scholar, he has embarked on a rigorous course of study, taking Straus courses such as Biblical Ideas and American Democracy, Athens and Jerusalem, The Thought of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and Maimonides. Fortgang is currently writing his senior thesis on the American Declaration of Independence, exploring the Deuteronomic roots of the American founding. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection of Tanakh and American history, and I saw my senior thesis as the perfect opportunity to synthesize these two areas,” he said.
On campus, Fortgang is the co-founder and president of Yeshiva University’s Alexander Hamilton Society, a club that promotes a Hamiltonian vision of strong and principled American leadership in the international arena. The club hosts prominent guest speakers each semester and helps its members pursue careers in international affairs and foreign policy. Fortgang also has a passion for sports, and he served as a writer and editor for MacsLive, conducting basketball analytics for the Maccabees, Yeshiva University’s NCAA Division III basketball team.
Off-campus, Fortange serves as a teaching assistant for the Tikvah Fund’s Tikvah Online Academy (TOA). In this role, he works closely with Tikvah faculty to produce lesson plans on a range of topics, including political theory, literature, Jewish philosophy, and Zionist thought. As a TA, he monitors student progress and participation in dozens of online TOA courses. Fortgang has also produced and assembled questions for hundreds of listeners of the Tikvah Live and Conserving Torah Tikvah podcasts.
In addition to his work at TOA, he spent the summer of 2021 as a Tikvah-Beren Fellow, participating in seminars on political philosophy, Jewish leadership, and policy. For his independent research project capping off the fellowship, Fortgang developed “The Hebraic Spirit of America,” a curriculum for future educational courses at the Tikvah Fund focusing on the Hebraic influence on the American founding.
Fortgang will be graduating in June 2022 and will join the Paul E. Singer Foundation as an analyst in their two-year Analyst Program based in New York City in September. This prestigious opportunity brings together exceptional recent college graduates with a passion for advancing secure and prosperous Jewish communities in the United States and Israel as well as conservative values in the areas of domestic and economic policy, foreign policy, education policy, the rule of law and leadership development. “I am grateful to the Paul E. Singer Foundation for this exciting opportunity to further the ideas and ideals that I first developed at the Straus Center,” Fortgang said. “I look forward to implementing the ideas promoted by the Singer Foundation while gaining greater expertise in research, public policy and development strategies.”
Looking back at his three years at Yeshiva University, Fortgang reflected on his studies and his experiences in the Straus Scholars Program: “The YU Straus Center is one of the few institutions, if not the only institution housed at an American university, that brings the richness of the Western and Jewish traditions into the classroom as equals. The Straus Center is not solely an academic venture, but an institution that imbues within its students a sense of clarity and self-understanding of the wisdom and richness of our traditions and our role in perpetuating their flourishing.”
To learn more about the Straus Scholars Program, including our fall 2022 application, click here.