Alumni of Gershon Kekst Graduate School

Alumni of Gershon Kekst Graduate School 

Read below to learn more about four inspring JTS graduates.  

Director, Department of Culture, Community, and Society at Shalem College
Jerusalem, Israel
DHL in Midrash and Scriptural Interpretation

Why did you choose to attend The Graduate School?
Dr. Burt Visotzky was open to my desire to have a career that combined interests in academia, communal leadership, and the arts. Also, I was attracted to JTS's commitment to research on classical texts in their original languages, and the mix of students training for a variety of professional fields.

Who was your favorite professor?
Again, Burt Visotzky. He's a tremendous scholar with both mastery of primary and secondary sources and an incredibly open mind for meaningful study and research; a person who cares about communal issues and leads with creativity and passion; a treasured mentor, friend, and now—after he really helped me earn it the right way—colleague.

What professional skills did The Graduate School help you improve?
Focused research on academic topics leading to useful approaches for a wider audience.

What professional successes have you had?
Most recently, I contributed chapters on Bruce Springsteen and the Bible to Reading the Boss: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bruce Springsteen (Lexington Books, 2010), and on Bob Dylan and religion to Dylan at Play (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011).

I was honored to have been a Tikvah Scholar at New York University (2012–2013), researching a book about ancient myth, religion, and rock and roll, and both a Wexner Graduate Fellow (2000–2004) and Mandel Jerusalem Fellow (2005–2007). I won the Simon Rockower Award from the American Jewish Press Association for a long essay on Phillip Roth and religion in 2007, and the New Voices Prize from Jewish Family and Life! in 2005. I have published widely on art, religion, music, and Jewish life in newspapers and journals in print and online and in various anthologies over the years.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at JTS?
Moving from being a student to a faculty member and being invited to the "scotch club" in the JTS Sukkah one year—at least what I remember of it.

Why should a prospective student consider JTS?
If JTS continues to reimagine its place in the world, it will always be a great place to be.

Assistant Professor of Classical and Rabbinic Judaism, Portland State University
Portland, Oregon
PhD in Ancient Jewish Studies

Please describe your current job.
I am assistant professor at the Harold J. Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at Portland State University. I teach a variety of courses on Jews in antiquity, including Religion of Ancient Israel, Rabbinic Culture in a Roman World, and Ancient Jewish History. One of my favorite courses, Retelling the Bible, examines the ways in which ancient Jews interpreted the Bible, including apocryphal texts, dramatization and novelization of biblical stories, writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the classics of rabbinic literature.

What professional successes have you had?
For the past two years I was honored to be part of the Foundation for Jewish Culture's Jewish Studies Expansion Project as a Schusterman Teaching Fellow. With the support of the foundation and other community partners, I founded the First Fruits Festival, a mixed-media event combining cutting-edge Jewish music with traditional text study as a celebration of Shavu'ot. Our inaugural event in 2011 featured Alicia Jo Rabins' Girls in Trouble, a folk rock song cycle based on stories about women in the Hebrew Bible.

My most recent article, "Playing Roman in Jerusalem: Jewish Attitudes toward Sport and Spectacle during the Second Temple Period," was published in Jews in the Gym: Judaism, Sports and Athletics (Studies in Jewish Civilization, Volume 23; Purdue University Press, 2012).

I'm currently working on a book that examines the pivotal role that Jewish attitudes toward Greek and Roman theater, athletic competition, gladiators, and other popular entertainments played in the formation of Jewish identity in Roman Palestine.

What specific class at JTS has had the greatest impact on your career?
Ancient Jewish History, which I took as an undergraduate at List College, but also had the pleasure of teaching while working on my PhD at The Graduate School. My interest in ancient Judaism began while writing a paper on the Jews of Elephantine for that class.

What professional skills did The Graduate School help you improve?
Wow, so many. Being a close and careful reader—in several different languages—probably tops the list.

How is JTS a part of your life today?
This summer I will be teaching a course for The Graduate School: Jews and Popular Culture in the Ancient World.

Why should a prospective student consider JTS?
There is simply no other program in the United States where they will get better instruction in reading Jewish texts.

School-Age Programming and Camp Achva Program Director, JCCNV
Fairfax, Virginia
MA in Jewish Studies, Jewish Professional Leadership Program

Please describe your current job
As school-age programming director at the JCC in Fairfax, I am responsible for the after-school program, school breaks, and parents'-night-out programming. I manage the budget, hire and train all staff, maintain relationships with all 150 families and 15 schools, and manage the school-enrichment classes for the children. During the summer, I serve as program director of our day camp, developing the program and curriculum and supervising all specialists and specialty camps.

What professional successes have you had?
I am currently participating in JCC's Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship, a two-year fellowship that helps those working with teens to enhance their professional skills, deepen their Jewish identities, and network with others in the field. I also sit on and chair several committees on the importance of Judaic and Shabbat programming at our center.

What specific classes at JTS had the greatest impact on your career?
My Talmud class had a great impact. We are trying to become more Jewish in content at our center, and I am able to use what I learned in that class to help the JCC determine the most appropriate steps to take. It also provided me with many "Jewish teachable moments."

Aryeh Davidson's leadership class taught me how to be a better supervisor and how to manage both up and down simultaneously, while running a large, quality program.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Even if you already have a Judaic background, it is still important to take basic Talmud, history, and Hebrew classes: they help give you a frame of reference for other classes you may choose.

Why should a prospective student consider JTS?
If you want to work in the Jewish world, then JTS is your place.

Senior Director of Planning, UJA-Federation of New York, Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel
MA in Jewish Studies

Why did you decide to attend The Graduate School?
I wanted the depth that The Graduate School could offer me in all sorts of Jewish studies classes—literature, history, Bible, etc.—and I wanted access to the community of learners and incredible teachers there.

Which course at The Graduate School had the greatest impact on you?
Judaism in America with Jack Wertheimer helped me understand Jewish society and culture, and how history has shaped the American Jewish experience. I loved it!

What skills did The Graduate School help you improve?
The Graduate School helped me understand Judaism more deeply. It helped me understand the forces that are instrumental in building Jewish life today, and the depth and range of our tradition. It also helped me to read and analyze text more deeply.

What is one of your favorite JTS memories?
Sitting in a class on Isaac Bashevis Singer and not wanting it to ever end!

What do you miss most about JTS?
I miss The JTS Library, the classes, the people, the learning. The Graduate School gave me a deeper understanding of Jewish life, literature, history, and text that I will always cherish. JTS has some of the best minds of our tradition, and it was a privilege to learn from them.

Learn more about JTS alumni success.