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Straus Center Launches New Fellowship for Educators

This academic year, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought is conducting a new Graduate Fellowship for Aspiring & Current Educators, with a cohort of fourteen students and alumni from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud/Tanach Studies, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education & Administration. Co-led by Dr. Neil Rogachevsky, Associate Director of the Straus Center, and Dr. Elana Riback Rand, who serves as Educational Initiatives Project Coordinator, the fellowship lays the groundwork for pedagogical development by studying and reflecting on seminal essays of political theory and philosophy.

Seminar discussions range across a variety of subjects, from Jewish identity to geopolitics, from high school Talmud classes to the implications of French Emancipation, and from Maimonides to the American Dream. The Fellows convene throughout the year to read classical texts in modern political thought and to consider how and why the themes are relevant to Jewish education. The participants are all interested in teaching, whether in formal academic settings or more informal adult educational contexts, and the seminar discussions and activities aim to spark the participants’ thinking about their place in the Jewish story and how they may harness the ideas of the past and the present to teach the students of the future.

This semester’s multi-week seminar is structured around three units, each comprised of a discussion of the themes of a text, facilitated by Dr. Rogachevsky, and a teaching session led by Dr. Rand, in which participants apply the themes from the text to contemporary questions in Jewish education. 


In the first week, participants read and discussed Leo Strauss’ “German Nihilism,” exploring the ideological bases Western liberalism and of Nazism, and their far-reaching implications for today’s political landscape. In the follow-up pedagogy session, the conversation centered on the potential tensions students may experience between the values of tradition and the pull of modernity, and the role liberalism plays in navigating these tension. The second reading, Seymour Martin Lipset’s “American Exceptionalism Reaffirmed” (1990) was paired with an excerpt from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and inspired a stirring discussion about what makes America unique. The following week’s seminar picked up on the concept of exceptionalism as it relates to Jewish chosenness, with participants exploring what makes Jews and Judaism distinct and imagining how and why they might organically incorporate relevant lessons on civics into their Judaic Studies classes. For the final fall session, participants will discuss Irving Kristol’s “On the Political Stupidity of the Jews” and what it means for American Jews today.