Daniel Nussbaum

The work he loves, the person He's becoming

Daniel Nussbaum MA/MPP'20Fresh out of college in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and keen interest in the social sciences, Daniel Nussbaum applied to and was hired to work at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies as a research specialist. The summer that followed was a chaotic period. Lown, the building at Brandeis University where the Cohen Center resides, was undergoing renovations and reconstruction, which relocated all faculty and staff to temporary offices around campus. Danny’s workspace was in a dormitory with the rest of the Cohen Center staff.

Not long out of college, the dorm was a familiar environment, save for the air-conditioners rumbling in every dorm room. But that’s not what he remembers most.

“My first impressions working at the Cohen Center were that the people were so friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable,” Danny remembers. “I had an incredibly nice officemate, and it was wonderful to get to know other research specialists and associates during lunches off-campus. The colleagues on my team were (and are) amazing. It was clear from day one that they were invested in my success.”

The Cohen Center’s director is Professor Len Saxe, also the chair and a faculty member of the Hornstein Program. “At the Cohen Center, we aim to guide our young staff in choices they have that affect their career,” he says. “Danny was a perfect candidate for the Hornstein Program and we encouraged him in that direction.”

So after a few months on the new job, Danny also applied to Hornstein on Len’s recommendation. Danny sped through the application process and was accepted into the MA/MPP (Public Policy) track.

Len and other faculty suggested that Danny do the program on a part-time basis and keep working at the Cohen Center. Instead, Danny started the first semester as a full-time student while continuing his work at the Cohen Center, and he hasn’t looked back. Over the past year he’s learned that he can manage the demands and rigors of both a full-time graduate level dual-degree program and part-time work.

“I have definitely grown academically, professionally and personally through this first year,” he observes. “I am continually finding out new things about myself, including how much I can handle, what interests me and what does not,” he says. “I’m more knowledgeable about the pressing issues facing different Jewish organizations and communities, how they’re talked about and how research informs our understanding of them. I’m more aware of and value religious pluralism, and I recognize prejudices I personally held about different Jewish populations.

“I’ve also become comfortable with more Jewish things in my life because I didn’t have much of that in college. It’s nice to get back to that. I am more comfortable now and feel more like I belong.”

Knowledge he’s gained from his Hornstein and Heller coursework is proving useful in the work he’s doing at the Cohen Center, helping to draft their set of value codes. “We have a values statement subcommittee of which I'm a part where we're drafting these core values in a document,” says Danny. “We're on our second draft right now and working on a process to get it finalized.

“Professor Mark Rosen’s Organizational Behavior class has helped me a great deal in thinking about these value codes. I reviewed materials from class before meetings and it helped me focus on how I could help shape the conversation around our values, point us to a code that reflects both our internal values and external values, and just keep us focused on what we care about and our process.”

This summer isn’t much quieter than last. Danny’s team at the Cohen Center is releasing updated population and demographic estimates of the American Jewish population. “That work is my main focus for the summer,” he says, “and we are working tirelessly to get the estimates finalized.”

“In addition to this work, I have an independent study for Hornstein on diversity in the Jewish community, specifically focusing on Jews of color. I’ll be working with Len to define the project. And in August, I’m going to Tel Aviv for a Hebrew ulpan. It will be my first intensive Hebrew course, and I am very excited. I’ve been taking a couple online Hebrew lessons each day online to get into the mindset. Hopefully that will help!”

While it is not required that Hornstein students know Hebrew when they enter the program, they must achieve various levels of proficiency, depending on their degree track, by the time they graduate.

“Because of my current course and work obligations and a month in Israel, I will be doing my field work next summer,” says Danny. “Fieldwork will give me a chance to work in a new organization and try out something different. I’m leaning towards work in either research or program evaluation. We learned a little bit about that in our Statistics and Evaluation for Jewish Professional Leaders class and how to apply logic models to different organizations for program evaluation. I think it would be interesting to do that in practice!”

Having gone directly to work at the Cohen Center following graduation, Danny’s been fascinated to learn about the many different Jewish organizations that are out there.

“We’ve met with so many [organizations] it's hard to keep track!” he laughs. “Even though we’ve visited so many organizations, each one has offered something memorable and meaningful. There have been many opportunities for students to meet people, network, hear different perspectives, and learn about the different types of organizations and job roles out there, from the traditional to the non-traditional.

“I think Hornstein has done an amazing job of providing experiential learning opportunities both in terms of traveling (to Israel, to Argentina, to D.C.), and in providing us with opportunities to meet with different organizations and different Jewish professional leaders,” he says.

Danny’s most memorable event since he’s been at Hornstein is the World Jewry Seminar to Buenos Aires that both cohorts participated in last February.

“Every organization we visited informed and shaped my understanding of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, and it was eye-opening to hear such a broad range of perspectives,” not to mention that “I just generally love traveling to new places. Beyond learning so much about the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, it was wonderful to learn about Argentina’s culture and history, to practice my Spanish, to explore the cuisine and the city, and to meet and learn from interesting people.”

“And have you seen Club Náutico Hacoaj, their Jewish community center?” he asks. “It’s jaw-dropping, the best resort I have ever been to!

In His Own Words, an Interview with Daniel Nussbaum

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“We’ve met with so many [organizations] it's hard to keep track!... I think Hornstein has done an amazing job of providing experiential learning opportunities both in terms of traveling (to Israel, to Argentina, to D.C.), and in providing us with opportunities to meet with different organizations and different Jewish professional leaders.”

Daniel Nussbaum, MA/MPP’20