CJS - People

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Current Students

Susan L. Aguilar

Degree Program: PhD (currently doctoral candidate, ABD), Cultural and Historical Studies of Religion

Research interests: Susan also received her M.A. in Jewish Studies at CJS. Her area of focus is on Jewish constructions of identity and cultural production in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. During her doctoral program, Susan was a GTU Presidential Scholar and received research grants from the Taube Foundation, the Academic Consortium of Northern California/Jewish Community Center, San Francisco and was awarded the Elka Klein Research Grant by the Association for Jewish Studies.  She has presented academic papers at the Medieval Academy of America, the Association for Jewish Studies, the International Medieval Meeting in Lleida, Spain and at conferences in Stockholm and Edinburgh.

Susan’s dissertation focuses on Jewish participation in public processions and rituals in the Crown of Aragon during the 13th through 15th centuries in order to explore medieval Jewish identity.

Carrie Sealine

Degree Program: PhD, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies of Religion with a concentration in New Religious Movements.

Research Interests: Carrie Sealine received her MA in Jewish Studies from the Center for Jewish Studies/GTU in 2016 with a thesis titled, Making Maccabees into Jews, Making Jews into Maccabees: Reading Jewish Identity though Extra-canonical Texts. She is interested in magic, Jewish magic, text, and critical theory and the emergence of post-religious spiritual praxes. Carrie will teach a Newhall class in the fall titled Women & Thelema: A Case Study, which will interrogate Thelema, a neopagan new religious movement as a decolonial and feminist phenomenon.

Leah Macinskas-Le

Degree Program: PhD, Sacred Texts and Their Interpretation with a concentration in New Testament and Rabbinics

Research interests: Her research interest is the rhetoric of Jewish halakhic debates in the Second Temple period.  Leah has a BA in Classics and Critical Theory from McGill University, a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Her MA Thesis with honors was titled The Sociological Implications of Halakhic Debates in the Second Temple Period: Qumran, The New Testament, and the Mishnah. In Fall 2018 Leah will be teaching a Newhall course on the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Aya Baron

Degree Program:  MA Jewish Studies

Research Interests: “I am passionate about cultivating a regenerative Jewish culture, developing rites of passage experiences for youth, and working with adolescent girls. I am the lead mentor for Wilderness Torah's B'naiture, a wilderness based B'nai Mitzvah coming of age program, and am excited to begin my studies at the GTU where I plan to focus on feminist analysis of Jewish text.”

Aya Baron is Wilderness Torah's Youth Programs Director. She joined their staff in 2015 after three years serving part-time as a lead mentor in the field, and has played a pivotal role in growing and evolving their youth programs, now currently serving over 140 youth in the East Bay and Peninsula. She was a 2017 Natalia Twersky Educator Award Finalist, recognized for creatively integrating Jewish women’s stories into Wilderness Torah’s curricula. She holds a degree in Contemplative Education from Brown University, and a certificate in herbal medicine from the California School of Herbal Studies, and plans to go on to Rabbinical School after completing her M.A. in Jewish Studies at the GTU.

Aya was a Jewish Community Fellow in Fall 2017 in the class Intro to Rabbinic Literature.

Alumni Profiles

Robert Galoob

"The women of CJS, Deena and Naomi, along with help from Josh, guided me through a transformative and life-altering experience of intellectual and personal growth during my doctoral studies. Their patience, knowledge, wisdom, and kindness gave me the support necessary to navigate the difficulties of researching, formulating, and finally writing a complex dissertation. Through periods of absolute confusion and frustration, buoyed by occasional moments of clarity and elation, their presence and strength helped provide the courage to move forward. The dissertation process is not unlike a marathon, challenging us both mentally and physically. The unexpected turns in research lead to difficult decisions about the direction of our project, and we were often faced with the prospect of jettisoning portions of what we have already set in stone. Without their help, I can't imagine working through the moments of indecision and existential angst. Thank you Deena. Thank you Naomi. Thank you CJS."

Earnest Vener

"The Center for Jewish Studies is like a precious treasure to me! At CJS I was able to engage in rigorous Jewish learning in a passionate, supportive, and thoughtful environment. The leadership at CJS manages to create a community that is serious academically, yet centered around joy and a love of learning. I am so grateful for my time at CJS and the foundation in Jewish Studies that the MA program provided me with. After I completed my MA at CJS I began rabbinical school. The MA program prepared me with a grounding in history, text, and language that enriches my learning everyday."

Earnest was a Berkeley-Jerusalem Fellow during their time at the CJS, and is currently a student at JTS Rabbinical School. 

Jonathan Homrighausen

"In my time at the GTU, I have written a thesis on the Song of Songs and the Qur'an; penned Illuminating Justice: The Ethical Imagination of The Saint John's Bible (Liturgical Press, July 2018), on The Saint John's Bible, a contemporary illuminated manuscript of the entire Catholic Bible; and co-authored, with David Pleins, Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary by Conceptual Categories: A Student's Guide to Nouns in the Old Testament (Zondervan, 2017). I am especially interested in scriptural conversations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This fall (2018) I am beginning a PhD in Old Testament at Duke University."

CJS Community Fellows

Agnieszka Ilwicka

An historian, educator, and Yiddish language lecturer, she is a fellow at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. She has studied at Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University, University College of London, Southampton University James Parkes Institute in England, and Vilnius University. Agnieszka works for the Taube Philanthropies for Jewish Life & Culture. In her free time she is teaching Yiddish at the Workmen's Circle in San Francisco. 

Course: The Politics of the Bible in Translation, Spring 2018

Margie Jacobs

“Throughout my rabbinate, I have worked to create the conditions for heart-opening, presence, and awareness of the One within the many through text study, contemplative practice and ritual.”

Margie Jacobs is a Reconstructionist Rabbi.  She has served as Rabbi of Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond, CA, Regional Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, and East Bay Vice President of the Northern California Board of Rabbis. She teaches Torah, facilitates mindfulness meditation, and lives in Berkeley with her spouse and two children. 

Course: Intro to Zohar, Spring 2018

Simcha Schwartz

“I am dedicated to Jewish regenerative communities based in culture building, ritual and study.”   

Simcha Schwartz is the Co-founder and former Director of the Jewish Farm School.  Simcha’s Jewish professional career has also included working for Hazon Inc, Eden Village Camp, the Teva Learning and American Jewish World Service.  In 2013, Simcha became a Chaplain and is currently on staff with Vitas Healthcare.  Lastly, he will be ordained Chaplain in September, 2018 at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA.

Course: Readings in the Zohar, Spring 2018

Jill Cozen-Harel

Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel has been teaching and providing pastoral care in the Jewish community for over 15 years. She was ordained by Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and also holds a BA in Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley.  In addition, she has learned at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative Yeshiva, and the Shalom Hartman Institute. Jill has taught middle school students at Brandeis Hillel Day School, and adults of various ages through Kevah and the Mission Minyan.  She has also served congregations in a variety of capacities. Jill spent several years as a chaplain at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is a volunteer chaplain for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and has facilitated groups for domestic violence survivors. She led trips to Israel, Ghana, New Orleans for Birthright Israel, American Jewish World Service, and the organization formerly known as Jewish Funds for Justice, respectively. She is particularly proud that she ran 26.2 miles in the 2015 TCS NYC Marathon on behalf of American Jewish World Service.  Jill is also a business analyst at UCSF, where she manages several cloud applications. 

Course: Levinas, Fall 2017

Alina Fox

“I am passionate about the work of critical feminist anti-racist genealogies of Jewish knowledge (re)production in the Academy, understanding this work to be interconnected with movements for transformative, healing and just futures for all people across time and place.”

Alina Fox currently works as the Office Manager and Program Coordinator at the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies. They were a 2015 Gilda-Slifka Research Intern at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. They graduated from UC-Santa Cruz in 2016 and hope to pursue a PhD in rhetoric in the next few years. 

Course: Levinas, Fall 2017

Leo Fuchs

“I am passionate about ensuring a strong Jewish future, about engaging deeply with Torah, and about making Torah meaningful and relevant in the modern world as we pursue a just, creative and connected society.”

Leo Fuchs is the founding principal of Learning Without Limits Elementary school which he has led for nearly eleven years.  He has worked in Oakland public schools for nearly 17 years.  Leo is exploring opportunities to transition to full time Judaic study and/or work in the Jewish community.  He holds Masters degrees in Education and non-profit management. 

Course: Readings in the Zohar, Spring 2018