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 and the diversity of ways of being Jewish 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

Merissa Nathan Gerson

Merissa Nathan Gerson is a trained rape prevention worker and sex educator. Her writing on sexuality and Judaism appears in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New York Observer, Tablet, Playboy, Elle, and others. She holds an MA in Jewish Studies from the Graduate Theological Union with a focus on sex and gender as well as inherited trauma. Merissa has studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, The Jewish Theological Seminary, The Academy for Jewish Religion, Hebrew College, Naropa University, Middlebury's Hebrew Language School, The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and with many rabbis across the country including the great Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. Her work focuses on the inheritance of trauma and memory and how this impacts tradition. You can find out more about Merissa and her work at KenMeansYes.org, an initiative to raise-up consent as a Jewish value. Merissa graduated from the GTU-CJS in 2013.

For more information on Ken Means Yes, watch Merissa's talk "The Laws of the Land: Boundaries, Consent and Atonement". Merissa's talk discusses the ways sex education has been historically delegated to the state for American Jewry, and yet Judaism has a very rich tradition of teaching about sex, consent, and pleasure that we need today. Merissa leads the viewer on an exploration of what it means for all Jewish bodies -- across a range of gender identities -- to respect, to honor, and to teach one another about consent. This video was filmed at Repair the World: Detroit.

Follow this link to pledge consent this Yom Kippur. 

Jhos Singer

Maggid Jhos Singer is a professional Jewish educator, community and congregational leader, writer, and speaker. He is an out transman, a parent, spouse, mixologist and skillful home chef. He relishes his time spent in Jewish text study, hiking, and facilitating spiritual experiences for his flock and students.  He has been awarded one of SVARA's inaugural Transformative Talmud Teaching Fellowships.

SVARA’s Transformative Talmud Teaching Fellowship will train and support a new generation of queer and trans teachers and leaders who will make empowering and transformative experiences of Talmud study as a traditionally radical spiritual practice accessible to all.

Launching this fall, the Transformative Talmud Teaching Fellowship is a nine-month teacher education program designed to train a cadre of gifted, experienced educators, rabbis, activists, community leaders and change-makers in both the SVARA method of teaching Talmud and the creation of radical bet midrash-centered communities of Jewishly rooted, svara-dik learners around the world.

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."

Angela Botelho

"In a post-career move (as a former Deputy Attorney General for the State of California), I completed an MA degree in Jewish History and Culture in 2013 under the guidance of Professor Naomi Seidman.   I am currently finishing a book, an outgrowth of my Honors Masters Thesis at CJS, provisionally entitled Writing the Jewish Self: German Jews and the Persistence of Jewish Identity in Conversion.  As the Jewish daughter of German Jewish refugees, converts to Roman Catholicism in the 1930s, my interest in this topic is both academic and personal as reflected in the book's focus, trajectory, and crossover appeal.  In it, I seek to ascertain the impact of a contested Jewish identity on the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Jewish self.  My mixed-genre inquiry is situated at the intersection of history, memory, and life writing (and, in its its contemporary guise, the oral history interview) and their combined impact on the complexities of the post-modern, hybrid Jew whose reality defies categorization and the politics of naming."  

Howard Simon

Howard Simon holds a J.D. from Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), an MBA from Babson College, an M.A. from the Center for Jewish Studies of Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley and an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley.  Mr. Simon is a recognized expert in biosecurity and served as an officer and director of the not-for-profit International Gene Synthesis Consortium, an organization devoted to advancing global biosecurity in the synthetic biology industry.  He currently is the board president of Lehrhaus Judaica, the Bay Area's adult school of Jewish studies and is a frequent teacher and lecturer.  Mr. Simon also is a successful singer-songwriter.  His 2014 debut album, "The View from this Horizon," reached No. 1 on the San Francisco Reverbnation folk music chart, and his second collection, "Visitors" (2016), reached No. 2 on the singer-songwriter chart.  He currently is working on his third album, scheduled for release in 2019.  Mr. Simon's music can be heard on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal and other similar sites.  Mr. Simon performs regularly at Bay Area acoustic music venues.

Renée Powell

Renée Powell earned a fine arts degree at UC Berkeley and an MA in Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union's Center for Jewish Studies in Berkeley, where she wrote her thesis on “Degenerate Art and the Jewish Question.” Powell also has taught graduate-level courses in Jewish art and politics. She is also an art appreciation instructor at the Reutlinger Community in Danville. 

Powell’s art reflects the experiences of her father, grandfather and other family members during the Holocaust. Using both stoneware clay and paper clay fired in wood, raku or gas-fired kilns, she produced tiles that show demolished Jewish symbols in broken glass. 

In Fall 2018, Powell is the featured artist in an exhibit of ceramic and mosaic art pieces that opened October 8 and closes January 27, 2019 at Reutlinger Community's Jewish Heritage Museum.

 

Christopher Ramsey

"After completing the M.A. in Jewish Studies at the GTU in May 2014, I moved back to Albany, NY where I rejoined employment with New York State government.  I have recently started an on-line certificate in financial planning with Boston University after which I am excited to continue a career in the financial planning industry."

CJS Community Fellows

The Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies offers a fellowship for Bay Area Jewish educators and community professionals for a single course in Jewish Studies at the GTU.  This fellowship is generously supported by the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation.  Please click here for more information and to apply.

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

Judy Massarano

BA Literature and Judaic Studies, Stern College
MA Special Education, California State University
Teaching Certificate, Jerusalem College for Women
Child Development Associate Teacher, Cerro Coso College
JECELI Fellow

Judy Massarano has taught Judaic Studies in the Bay Area since 1993. Currently working as a private tutor, religious school teacher, preschool specialist, and elder companion, Judy recently served for 3 years as an early childhood educator at Congregation Netivot Shalom. She also taught 2nd-8th graders at Oakland Hebrew Day School for 21 years. Judy teaches private students of all ages about Judaism and Hebrew, and trains young people and adults in synagogue skills. Residing in Berkeley with her partner Glenn, she enjoys gardening, hiking, cooking, and singing piyutim.

Course: Ancient & Medieval Jewish Civilization, Fall 2018

Jennie Chabon

Cantor Jennie Chabon, a Berkeley native, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Anthropology and received her Masters of Sacred Music and Investiture from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2004.  Since then she has joyfully been serving as the cantor of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek.   While in cantorial school, Cantor Chabon discovered a deep love of liturgy and the desire to make prayer accessible to all. Since coming to B’nai Tikvah, she has recorded three albums of Shabbat music with her band, Shir Joy, and given birth to three beautiful boys: Ezra, Levi and Judah.  Cantor Chabon is currently following her path to the rabbinate and is in her fourth year of rabbinical school at The Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.  When not doing Jewish things, she is an avid yoga practitioner and loves to cook and explore the trails of the Oakland and Berkeley hills.

Course: Ancient & Medieval Jewish Civilization, Fall 2018