Advisory Board

Our Advisory Board members are among the most prominent leaders in the field Israel study and academics.

"The State of Israel has become a central and often contentious point of discussion on the American college campus and on the American political scene. Polemics all too-often replace reasoned and informed conversation. The need for students to have a substantive knowledge of Israeli history, culture, society, and politics is thus more necessary than ever if responsible discussions on Israel on the campus and in the community are to take place." —Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD; Chairman, Young Leaders Seminar 

Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD
Chairman, Young Leaders Seminar Advisory Board
Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, Past President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Rabbi Ellenson is Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Visiting Professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Chancellor-Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he served as President of HUC-JIR from 2001-2013.  

For two decades, Ellenson served as head of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, the undergraduate program in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California conducted under the aegis of HUC-JIR. He has also served as a Visiting Professor at both UCLA and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and he has been a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem as well as a Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the spring of 2015, New York University appointed him as Distinguished Visiting Professor and he taught there in the Skirball Department of Judaic Studies.

A scholar of modern Jewish thought and history, Ellenson is recognized for his writings and publications in these fields. He has written extensively on the origins and development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany during the Nineteenth Century; Orthodox legal writings on conversion in Israel, North America, and Europe during the modern era; the relationship between religion and state in Israel; the history of modern Jewish religious movements; and American Jewish life.

Ellenson has authored or edited seven books and over 300 articles and reviews in a wide variety of academic and popular journals and newspapers. His book, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, won the National Jewish Book Council’s award as outstanding book in Jewish Thought in 2005. His work, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, published by the University of Alabama Press in 1990, as well as his book, Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, co-authored with Daniel Gordis and published by Stanford University Press in 2012, were also both nominated for book awards by the National Jewish Book Council. His newest book, Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice, appeared in September of 2014 in the University of Nebraska/Jewish Publication Society’s Scholar of Distinction Series.  His academic colleagues honored him with the publication of Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition – Essays in Honor of David Ellenson, edited by Michael A. Meyer of HUC-JIR and David N. Myers of UCLA, in 2014

Ellenson received his PhD from Columbia University in 1981 and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 1977. Previously, he received his AB degree the College of William and Mary in 1969 and the University of Virginia granted him an MA in Religious Studies in 1972.

Shai Feldman, PhD
Judith and Sidney Swartz Director, Crown Center for Middle East Studies and Professor of Politics, Brandeis University
Senior Fellow and Board Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Professor Feldman serves as an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute in London. From 1997-2005, he was Head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and from 2001-2003, he served as a member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters.

Feldman is the author of numerous publications.  These include six books: Israeli Nuclear Deterrence: A Strategy for the 1980s (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); The Future of U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation (Washington D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1996); Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in the Middle East (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997); Bridging the Gap:  A Future Security Architecture for the Middle East (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997 – with Abdullah Toukan (Jordan)); and, Track-II Diplomacy: Lessons from the Middle East (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003 – with Hussein Agha, Ahmad Khalidi, and Zeev Schiff).  His latest book (with Abdel Monem Said Aly and Khalil Shikaki), Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East, was published in December 2013 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Rachel Fish, PhD
Rohr Visiting Lecturer in Modern Israel Studies, Harvard University
Recipient, Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence; Associate Director, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University

Dr. Fish is associate director of the Schusterman Center. She completed her doctoral degree in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department at Brandeis University in 2013. Her dissertation, “Configurations of Bi-nationalism: The Transformation of Bi-nationalism in Palestine/Israel 1920's-Present,” examines the history of the idea of bi-nationalism and alternative visions for constructing the State of Israel. Fish has worked as an educator and consultant in various capacities in the Jewish community and higher education, teaching about Zionism and Israeli history at Harvard University, Brandeis University, UMass Amherst and the Me’ah Adult Jewish Education program. At Brandeis, she teaches the Myra Kraft seminar on Israel at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. In 2015, she held the Rohr Visiting Professorship at Harvard University, where she lectured on modern Israel and received the Derek Bok Certificate of Teaching Excellence.

Jonah Hassenfeld, PhD
Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning, Gann Academy

Dr. Hassenfeld is Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning at Gann Academy.  Among other responsibilities, he is helping Gann redesign its approach to teaching and learning about Israel with a focus on articulating and evaluating outcomes. He completed his doctoral degree in Education and Jewish studies at Stanford University in 2016.  His dissertation, “Narratives of Collective Belonging: American Jews and the History of Israel,” examines the ways American Jews present and past have told the story of the state of Israel.  Hassenfeld has worked as a high school teacher and adult educator in a variety of settings in the Jewish community and beyond. 

Jon A. Levisohn, PhD
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Chair in Jewish Educational Thought, Brandeis University
Director, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Professor Levisohn came to Brandeis in 2002, and became director of the Mandel Center in 2014. A philosopher of education, his scholarship has focused on three broad areas: the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts, i.e., Bible and rabbinic literature; the teaching and learning of history; and critically investigating and reconceptualizing the purposes of Jewish education.

His recent work includes two book projects: Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts (Jon A. Levisohn and Susan P. Fendrick, eds., Academic Studies Press, 2013), and The Interpretive Virtues: A Philosophical Enquiry into the Teaching and Learning of Historical Narratives (forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell). He is also the co-editor of two forthcoming volumes, Advancing the Learning Agenda in Jewish Education (with Jeffrey S. Kress) and Beyond Jewish Identity (with Ari Y. Kelman). An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, he holds degrees from Harvard and Stanford in Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Philosophy of Education.

Beyond Brandeis, Levisohn consults at and teaches for Jewish educational institutions, drawing on his academic expertise, twenty years of experience as a Jewish educator, and his leadership roles in several Jewish organizations.

Jonathan D. Sarna, PhD
Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University
President of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s fifty most influential American Jews, Dr. Sarna was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion, and life.  In 2009, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Born in Philadelphia, and raised in New York and Boston, Sarna attended Brandeis University, the Boston Hebrew College, Merkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem, and Yale University, where he obtained his doctorate in 1979.

From 1979-1990, Sarna taught at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he rose to become Professor of American Jewish history and Director of the Center for the Study of the American Jewish Experience.  He has also taught at Harvard, Yale, the University of Cincinnati, and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sarna came back to Brandeis in 1990 to teach American Jewish history in its Department of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies.  He chaired that department three different times, and now chairs Brandeis’ Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. He also chairs the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.

Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than thirty books, including Lincoln and the Jews: A History (with Benjamin Shapell) and When General Grant Expelled the Jews. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

Leonard Saxe, PhD
Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy, Brandeis University

Professor Saxe is Director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University.  Saxe is a social psychologist and methodologist concerned with the application of social science to social policy issues. His present focus is on religious and ethnic identity and specifically addresses issues relevant to the Jewish community.

Saxe's current research on the Jewish community involves socio-demographic studies of American Jewry and a program of research on Jewish education and its relationship to the Jewish engagement. He is the principal investigator of a longitudinal study of Birthright Israel, a large-scale educational program. Saxe is an author and/or editor of nearly 300 publications, including a 2008 book, Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Journey in Young Adult Identity (with Barry Chazan).

He has been a Science Fellow for the United States Congress and was a Fulbright Professor at Haifa University, Israel. In 1989, he was awarded the American Psychological Association’s prize for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, Early Career. In 2012, he received the Marshall Sklare Award for lifetime contributions to the social scientific study of Jewry.  He teaches in the Hornstein Program for Jewish Professional Leadership and at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Ilana Szobel, PhD
Assistant Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature on the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Chair in Hebrew Literature Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University
Core Faculty, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

Dr. Szobel received her doctorate in January 2008 from the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Her dissertation won the 2007 Ben Halpern Award for Best Dissertation from the Association for Israel Studies. Her scholarly interests encompass a broad range of issues regarding identity with a particular sensitivity to cultural, political, and social processes of inclusion and exclusion. In her teaching, she underlines challenges posed by feminism, disability, war and peace, the Holocaust, family structure, economic and cultural dislocation as compelling entry points for students to engage Israeli society and culture. She reaches into personal and collective traumatic experiences which have left an indelible mark on Israeli culture as a way to open up and recast Israel’s conflicted history. She adroitly draws upon an impressive variety of conceptual paradigms: psychoanalytic and feminist theories of trauma, disability studies, witness theory, memory studies and film theories.

All of these tools are brought to bear in her book A Poetics of Trauma: The Work of Dahlia Ravikovitch (Brandeis University Press, 2013). This book is the first comprehensive examination of the entire oeuvre of Israel Prize Laureate Dahlia Ravikovitch.

Szobel is currently working on a book project, Flesh of My Flesh: Sexual Violence in Hebrew Literature. The book explores the literary history of sexual assault in Hebrew literature, and situates the rhetorics of sexual aggression within the context of gender, ethnicity, race, disability, Zionism and national identity.

Ilan Troen, PhD
Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies at Brandeis University
Founding Director, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University

Dr. Troen has served as dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and as director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute and Archives in Sede Boker.

Troen has authored or edited numerous books in American, Jewish and Israeli history. He is also the founding editor of Israel Studies (Indiana University Press), the leading journal in this new field, and co-edits the Schusterman Series in Israel Studies. His  publications include Jewish Centers and Peripheries: European Jewry Between America and Israel 50 Years after World War II (1998); The Americanization of Israel (2001), with Glenda Abramson; Divergent Jewish Cultures: Israel and America (2001), with Deborah Dash-Moore; Imagining Zion: Dreams, Designs and Realities in a Century of Jewish Settlement (2003); with Jacob Lassner, Jews and Muslims in the Arab World; Haunted by Pasts Real and Imagined (2007); and most recently, with Maoz Azaryahu, Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities (2012) and with Donna Divine, Zionism in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

He has lectured widely including Tufts, Brown, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Pennsylvania, Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati), Notre Dame, Northwestern, Chicago, Lake Forest, Michigan State, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia Commonwealth, Emory, Florida Atlantic, Tulane, Texas and UCLA in the U.S.; Torino, Thessaloniki, Osnabrück, Duisburg, Amsterdam and Oxford in Europe; Witswatersrand, Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa; Sydney and Canberra in Australia; Hong Kong, Peking and Renmin (Beijing) in China; Bilkent and Koc in Turkey.  

He has also been scholar-in-residence at such communal settings as the B’nai B’rith Scholar in Seattle, numerous congregations such as the Hillcrest Community Center in New York, the Hampstead Synagogue on Long Island, Mishkan Tefillah in Boston, Solellim in Chicago as well as for the GA and federations.

Troen was born in Boston, educated at the Latin School, Hebrew College and Brandeis before taking his PhD at the University of Chicago.  He was at Missouri and Princeton before making aliyah in 1975.  He is married to Dr. Carol Troen.  They have six children and make their permanent home in Omer, a community outside Beer-Sheva.