New Developments Inside The Classroom, And Out
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New Developments Inside The Classroom, And Out

Hofstra Hillel goes entrepreneurial; facelift for HUC’s Jerusalem campus; winemaking degree at Hebrew U.

Entrepreneurship and Ethics at Hofstra

A journalism and global studies major at Hofstra University, Marc Yanniello was looking this year for some training in entrepreneurships to help him develop a business idea for branding health foods.

He found it at his campus Hillel. And with the help of A-list Jewish entrepreneurs like KIND Healthy Snacks’ founder Daniel Lubetzky and mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt.

Yanniello, a junior from Ventnor, N.J., was among a small group of students at the Hempstead, L.I., school who participated this spring in a pilot entrepreneurship program offered by Hofstra Hillel.

For six weeks the students, both Jews and non-Jews, watched a series of short videos that introduced, in the examples and stories and words of successful Jewish entrepreneurs, how to start a business, how to market it, how to build one’s dream into a reality. The videos stressed not only the entrepreneurs’ ethnic-religious background, but also the type of Jewish ethics that shape their on-the-job behavior.

Then the students took part each week in a discussion with Harold Klein, an entrepreneurial video producer from Lynbrook, L.I., who thought up the project, conducted and edited the interviews into 35 six-to-seven-minute-long “modules,” chapters in the video series.

“The Bible of Business” series, judged a success by the Hillel participants, will be offered at Hillel chapters across the country starting this fall; it’s designed to last one semester.

The students “loved” the entrepreneur videos, said Rabbi Dave Siegel, executive director of Hofstra Hillel. “Everyone came back” to subsequent sessions. “They were impressed by the people [Klein] was able to interview. They could see themselves” as the men and women interviewed in the series — “hopefully, some day.”

“I felt it gave me a firm foundation” in entering the business world after graduation, said Yanniello. “We learned from the ground up how to start.”

Klein, who runs TeleTime Video Productions (teletimevideo.com) with his wife Nan, decided last year, after four decades of making industrial and educational videos, that he would produce a series that combines the basics of entrepreneurship, a subject of growing interest to college students, with Jewish ethics, to go beyond a strictly business-first approach.

An active member of the Jewish community, he pitched the idea to Hillel International – The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, an organization with entrée to Jewish college students at some 550 campuses around the world.

Hillel was interested. “It’s a tremendous recruiter,” Klein said.

The entrepreneurs he approached to be interviewed, “real-life people who made it,” were interested too — people like KIND’s Lubetzky, Birthright Israel funder Steinhardt and attorney Benjamin Brafman. “It wasn’t that hard” to get a yes from busy people, Klein said. “People like to help like-minded people.”

His series, which also includes introductions from prominent university-based entrepreneurial experts, features interviews with 15 successful men and women, who tell how they got started, what they do, and why they succeed. “It’s very practical,” hands-on, Klein said.

Many of the interviewees stress “pervasiveness,” Klein said.

Among the covered topics are financing, sales, marketing, hiring and sales. In short, the areas a more-extensive college business education would include. But also “Jewish Success” (featuring “Jewish Success in Israel”) and “Jewish Values” (including “Giving Back Through Business”).

“There’s a lot of Judaism flowing through it,” said Klein, who added that the videos’ Jewish themes reflect the moral principles contained in the Mishna’s Ethics of the Fathers, in a non-preachy way. “We’re not going to push religion.”

“Our students are thirsting to learn more about entrepreneurship, and this program allowed them to gain this knowledge within a Jewish context,” Rabbi Siegel of Hofstra Hillel said.

According to the series’ mission statement, “54 percent of the nation’s millennials either want to start a business or already have started one. Entrepreneurship is a viable career option and is regarded by millennials to be the key to reviving the economy.”

“I am sure this will fly across campuses, if guided by thoughtful energetic Hillel leaders, Edward Roberts, chair of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote Klein.

Yanniello, who has served on the board of Hofstra Hillel, called the series’ Jewish orientation “very important to me. It showed … how we can give back.”

“I left the course wanting more,” Yanniello said. “I would recommend it to anybody.”

Steve Lipman

New Look for HUC’s Old City Campus

The Jerusalem campus of the first major U.S.-based rabbinical seminary to make study in Israel mandatory is undergoing a facelift.

An artist rendering of architect Moshe Safdie’s changes to HUC’s King David Street entrance gate. Courtesy of HUC

A recent groundbreaking at the Israeli branch of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, a four-acre site near the Old City of Jerusalem, marked the start of renovations. They will include iconic Israeli architect Moshe Safdie’s architectural changes to the entrance gate along King David Street; additions that will make the campus fully handicap-accessible; the creation of a large open-air piazza that will serve as the venue for worship services and educational programs; improvements to the first campus building, and modernization of the campus chapel.

The renovations are the result of a $15 million gift from Tad Taube, a philanthropist from San Francisco who was born in Krakow, came to the United States a few weeks before the start of World War II and has funded many programs that support the renaissance of Polish Jewry. His grant will also establish an expansion of academic programs at the Jerusalem campus, especially for Israeli rabbinical students, and increased ties between HUC students and the Jewish community in Poland.

The Jerusalem site was renamed The Taube Family Campus in his honor.

Having given smaller-scale donations to HUC in the past, Taube said he made the $15 million grant “because we have not yet established a base in Israel for Taube Philanthropies. We’re planning to be … a major player in Israeli philanthropic activities.

“I’m not staking out to promote Reform over any other [denominational] pursuit of Judaism,” he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “It’s easier for the Reform to serve the religious needs of most Israelis.”

The HUC renovations will allow the school to “complete the vision for the campus,” where some 150 men and women, from both Israel and overseas, study, said Rabbi Aaron Panken, HUC president. He told the Jewish Week in a telephone interview that Taube’s gift “will secure our Jerusalem campus as an enduring testament to the vibrant ties uniting Israel, North American Jewry, and the global Jewish people.” The rabbi said the school is considering a yet-undefined expansion of academic programming and the size of the student body.

The physical renovations, which are expected to be completed in 2018, mark the first major improvements at the Jerusalem site, which opened in 1963 as a post-doctoral center of archaeological and biblical studies.

HUC made a year in Israel mandatory for its rabbinical students in 1970. Today, all of the school’s cantorial and education students are also required to spend their first year of studies there.

Steve Lipman

Winemaking Comes to the Academy

Israelis who want to learn how to make wine have had to go abroad for many years, usually to places like France or Italy.

Now they can stay home.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, beginning in the fall, will offer a winemaking program leading to a master of science degree in viticulture and oenology. The four-semester program, the first of its kind in Israel, will include studies in such areas as chemistry and biochemistry, geology and botany, and wine analysis and wineries management.

“It’s a master’s of science, it’s not a master of wine,” said program director Zohar Kerem, associate professor of food chemistry at the school’s faculty of agriculture, food and environment. “The program seeks to put Israel on the international map of winemaking.”

To be admitted, students must have a bachelor’s degree in a related field like biology, chemistry or agriculture.

The actual course offerings will begin in February, after a few months of orientation, Kerem said in a telephone interview.

Courses will take place at the university’s campus in Rehovot, near grape fields where students will get their own vines. Each student — Kerem expects about 20 in the first class — will tend to his or her own crop, from harvest to making the finished product.

The goal is to produce wine — not necessarily to produce “good wine” the first time, Kerem said. He noted that his Hebrew name means vineyard, a fact that people frequently point out. Maybe, he said, it was “bashert” that his Polish-born grandfather changed the family’s name from Kramer several generations ago.

While the program will benefit Israel’s winemaking industry, it receives no financial support from Israeli wineries, Kerem said.

The introduction of the Hebrew University program parallels the growth of Israel’s winemaking industry in recent decades. Both the size of the field (some 300 wineries, most of the small, boutique variety) and its reputation (Israeli wines regularly win prizes in international competitions) have increased. And a 4-year-old Wine Research Institute at Ariel University is conducting research into the wines produced during the country’s biblical days.

Israel offers a unique venue for studying winemaking, Kerem said. A small land, it features the differences in weather, geography and soil types more common in larger, winemaking countries.

At the end of the program, students will celebrate at a meal where wine will be served, Kerem said. Probably, wine from an Israeli winery. “The students,” he said, “will want to keep their own wines.”

Steve Lipman

From Hedge Fund To Boarding School

Alex Troy takes reins at American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro.

With a law degree from Harvard University and several decades of experience as an investment adviser and hedge fund manager, Alex Troy, a former West Orange, N.J., resident, decided last year that he wanted to make a career change — to become an educator. Ideally, in the Jewish world. But he didn’t know exactly where.

Then he had an AHA moment, so to speak.

A friend told him that the American Hebrew Academy, a pluralistic Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, N.C., was looking for teachers.

Troy, a native of New York City who lived in “a variety of places” — his late father was a longtime professor of economics at Rutgers University who had several academic jobs before landing at Rutgers and settling the family in West Orange — went to Greensboro a year ago for a job interview. He talked about his background, which included work as a substitute high school teacher, developer of a course curriculum on investing, lecturer at NYU’s Stern School of Business and charter school supporter.

Then, “they offered me a different job.” Head of school.

Troy, 57, took over in June at the helm of the 15-year-old institution. He supervises six deans, and hopes to do some teaching as well, probably in Jewish history.

“I love schools and love being a student,” Troy wrote in a recent letter to the AHA academic community. “Both my father and grandfather were scholars and intellectuals.” His late grandfather, a student at the prestigious Slabodka yeshiva in Lithuania, came to the U.S. near the start of the 20th century “to escape Czarist oppression. ‘Learn Torah,’ he often rasped at me.”

Troy, who called his denominational affiliation “a la carte,” with connections to Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, with friends in the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic community, went to public school in West Orange, was a member of USY, and attended a typical after-school Hebrew school at the Jewish Center of West Orange.

His education there, he said, sparked his interest in Jewish studies. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Bible stories. That’s where I first encountered them.”

One now-prominent member of his family’s congregation there was Michael Borenstein, who later made aliyah, changed his last name to Oren, and has served as a historian, ambassador to the United States and current Knesset member.

After his bar mitzvah, Troy maintained loose Jewish ties, before starting a weekly on-the-phone learning program in 2002 through the Partners in Torah program. That sparked his interest in advanced Jewish learning, which has included Hebrew University (online), Jewish Theological Seminary (Jewish history), St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., (a master’s degree with a thesis on Moses), and a weekly dvar Torah he distributes to friends.

Troy said it’s too early to discuss specific plans he will implement to enable AHA to “complete” its vision of becoming an in-demand, dual-curriculum college preparatory boarding school. (Student enrollment is about 160, far short of Troy’s goal of 400; and a limited alumni base has restricted fundraising.) “I’m going to be in a mode of listening and learning.”

A one-time basketball player in high school and on the Yale University freshman team, Troy now limits his athletic activity to tennis. No competitive basketball, since suffering a cut under his eye that required 13 stitches several years ago.

But he’s open to games of shoot-around and HORSE with AHA students, he said. “I can still shoot.”

steve@jewishweek.org

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