The course title, “How to Read a 5000-Year-Old Language in Five Easy Lessons,” offered by the Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) in London, caught the attention of the young, well-heeled professional set who were searching for Jewish meaning and identity. Rabbi Rashi Simon, an insightful and witty American who founded JLE in 1989, drew people to the organization with his energy and creativity, along with trailblazing, explanatory crash courses in Judaism.
Students, faculty, and administrators of the Division of Graduate Studies (DGS) at Touro College celebrated the graduation of the class of 2015 at a joyous commencement ceremony at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, on June 23.
Much of the research on post-war Jewry concludes that European Jewish life vanished in the catastrophe of World War II. And indeed, statistics show that many Holocaust victims did emigrate from Europe to rebuild their lives in other countries. But, at the same time, there were also masses of Jews who willfully decided to stay on the continent.
What happened to them?
First she joined the inaugural class at Stern College for Women. “We were the first class; we were guinea pigs!” she remembers. In 1958 she graduated from there as a valedictorian with her B.A. in psychology and Bachelor of Religious Education (B.R.E.).
Then, she enrolled in Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies for her master’s in Jewish history. She was a Teaching Fellow at Stern when Dr. Bernard Lander, the dean of Revel at the time, mentioned something that surprised her.
Since graduating from Touro in 2002, Graduate School of Jewish Studies alumnus Rabbi Eliezer Rubin has become Head of School at Livingston, NJ’s co-educational Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. His interdisciplinary, philosophically pluralistic approach bridges Orthodox teachings and secular American ideals, in the hopes of sending well-rounded students into the world. Or, as Rubin puts it himself, “I’m very excited about helping children discover themselves while they connect to Jewish values.”
There is a global Jewish community, and each member has the opportunity to share its values with their immediate friends and neighbors. These are ideas held dear by Graduate School of Jewish Studies Class of 1989 graduate Rhonda Lillianthal, who now works as Director of The Center for Jewish Life at JCC Metrowest New Jersey. In that capacity, she also directs a site of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Lillianthal spends each day helping Jews either rediscover or ignite their spirituality. Her teaching is an extension of the meaningful way that faith guides her own actions.
A Master of Arts in Jewish History candidate, Passi Rosen-Bayewitz embarked on a study of Jewish professional women who had made a difference during the interwar years and the Holocaust period, between 1918 and 1945. Rosen-Bayewitz calls her subjects “ordinary women who accomplished extraordinary things”—very much like Rosen-Bayewitz herself.
Suffice it to say, Frederika Lorie has committed herself to understanding, whether that applies to varied individuals, communities, religions or other environmental circumstances. The Leeds, UK native and recent Cambridge University Theology honors grad is now residing in Manhattan’s Upper West Side while earning her Masters in Jewish Studies at Touro. As one might expect, the move’s been something of a culture shock.
Ira Bedzow isn’t your ordinary triple-degree-holding doctoral student, ordained rabbi and published poet. He may, in fact, be the only individual currently on the Eastern Seaboard with those particular credentials. The Florida native and Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies alum (not to mention 2010 commencement speaker… which wasn’t even his class) didn’t set out to overachieve. He simply followed his yen for knowledge and didn’t blink.
We often make our boldest moves when young and full of ambition. Taking giant leaps toward independence while growing up as a teenage girl amidst conflict in the Middle East demonstrates an entirely different level of confidence and purpose. Mahnaz Shmalo, an alumnus of Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies—and recently designated instructor at the Lander College for Women—was in high school when the Iranian revolution erupted in 1979. After graduating, she managed to escape to England and live with her sister, initiating a decades-long journey that would take her to Israel for 25 years and, eventually, America, where she now resides in Passaic, New Jersey. She has never returned to Iran.