Joan West Johnson

After winning a 1962 New York City Hebrew competition prize, Joan West left the familiarity of her childhood home in Queens, New York, where she had many family and friends, to study thousands of miles away at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon her enrollment, she became the first African American co-ed to attend the university.

Joan came to Israel when it was an emerging nation. She shared with amusement, “I was in Israel before Coca-Cola had even arrived. I had to ask a diplomat to ‘smuggle’ drinks for my party. Of course, it wasn’t really illegal; just not available in Israel, yet.”

Joan’s passion for people and life blossomed and thrived at the Hebrew University. The campus was full of staff and students from diverse cultures and was educated on tolerance, acceptance, and self-development. Joan said, “It was just like New York, but then again not, because I felt like an integral part of the community, and yet, I was in an entirely different country.”

One of her favorite memories as a student is of her encounter with Hebrew University President Pinchas Rosen. Joan says, “He wanted to speak with me, and I couldn’t figure out why. Why me? I felt like a middle school student in the principal’s office-absolutely afraid!” Her fear quickly faded, however, upon learning the reason for her meeting. Joan would be featured in the Jerusalem Post, Ebony Magazine, the New York Times, and other major newspapers as the university’s first African American student. “I was floored,” says Joan. 

Fifty-five years have passed, and Joan recently retired from the New York City public school system. She now splits her time between Queens and Boca Raton, Florida. During her last visit to Israel, she returned to HU. While there, she recalled that Israel was where she taught her first students and developed a love for education. Nostalgia bubbled over into deep gratitude, and as Joan said, “I couldn’t believe I was there. The place where I had become a woman, an individual. It was dream-like, and yet so real.” 


Amy Applebaum

Amy Applebaum’s journey to Israel was nothing short of serendipitous.

The year was 1991, and after participating in rush week at Chico State University (part of the California State University system), Amy didn’t receive a sorority bid.

“I was devastated and really didn’t know what to do,” Amy said. “Then I spoke with one of my professors at Chico, Dr. Sam Edelman, and he pointed me towards Jerusalem.”

Dr. Edelman helped arrange for Amy to receive a scholarship and a stipend to attend the Hebrew University, and that was all she needed. Amy packed her bags and made the spontaneous decision to study in Israel.

“That decision boosted my self-confidence,” Amy said. “I was in an entirely different country, exploring unique cultures, and not only was I surviving, I was seizing each opportunity life presented!”

The Hebrew University – where Amy studied communications – cultivated her intellect; expanded her sense of the world (she not only befriended people from all over the world, but traveled to Turkey, Cyprus, and Africa); and laid the foundation for her expertise in intercultural and interpersonal relationships.

Today, Amy is as an entrepreneur, business coach, author, media personality, wife, and mom of a precocious 5-year-old. Over the past decade, she’s helped tens of thousands of women achieve their personal and professional goals, and she’s been featured on ABC, CNN, TLC, Dr. Drew’s LifeChangers, and Martha Stewart Radio, as well as in the pages of Teen, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s World, and The New York Times. Plus, Amy became a certified hypnotherapist because she believes that success is just as much about “how you think” as it is “what you do.”

“The Hebrew University changed my life,” Amy said. “It was the impetus for everything I’ve ever done. It really shaped my future.”


Aviva Lev-Ari

Aviva Lev-Ari (nee Abraham) began her studies at Hebrew University in 1970 in geography and history, and later received her master’s degree in the Urban Studies program. She found her academic interests melded with her passions for music and poetry, cherry blossoms in pictures, harp music, fashion design, and Bob Dylan.

Her admiration for Bob Dylan and his poetic expression within the great American song tradition was just as strong as her desire to master the art of scientific and technical oral and written communication. Hebrew University helped her to do so. She attributes the skills she learned as a student at HU for her great success as a Research Associate at the Technion and as a Doctoral Candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in 1983.

Her professors at HU were also instrumental in helping her achieve her aspirations. They wrote letters of recommendations for her, and she still remains in touch with many of them.  “I remained in contact with them till some passed away, including Professor Louis Guttman and Professor Shalom Reichman. I am still in contact with Professor Ruth Kark and Dr. Sara Hershkovits. On my annual visit in Israel, I meet with both of them.” Her professors were her teachers but have also became her close friends.

Since leaving Hebrew University, she has helped numerous people. She worked in applied research in the U.S. with start-ups and Fortune 100 companies as a management consultant and as an Executive for 25 years. Following a career reinvention at Northeastern University in Biological Sciences, Nursing and Pharmacology, 2005-2007, she received a degree in Nursing and conducted research in Pharmacology at Northeastern University. Aviva worked in the healthcare sector till 2012.

She also worked in the publishing industry first as the Director of Research at McGraw-Hill/CTB and currently as the Editor-in-Chief of the LBPI Group’s Open Access Scientific Journal and as the Editor-in-Chief of the LPBI’s BioMed e-series.

Now, when Aviva looks back at the last twenty years of her career, the motivation and energy to start a new career in health care and another one in electronic scientific publishing, she never forgets where it all began – in a small lecture hall in Jerusalem at Hebrew University.


Mazal Yehezkely

Mazal Yehezkely was born in Tel Aviv and grew up in the city of Rishon Le Zion. She always dreamed of becoming a medical doctor and pursued her love for biology in high school. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Mazal served as a Sergeant in the Medical Corps, teaching soldiers to become paramedics and perform urgent surgeries in the field. She continued this path working for Magen David Adom as an instructor during her undergraduate studies.

After the IDF, Mazal went after another passion of hers, business and the markets, and enrolled in the Hebrew University for a BA degree in Business Administration and Economics.

(L-R) Gabriel Brahka, Mazal and Ori Mazal Yehezkely

The three years she spent on Mount Scopus were absolutely beautiful. Mazal met her future husband, Oren, on campus. The life in the dorms, acquiring best friends, and the city’s greatness contributed to her happiness and the decision to stay in Jerusalem for an additional seven years. One of her best memories from the time she was a student was the snowy winter in 1991. The blanket of snow that covered the university was magnificent and rare.



In 2006, Mazal and her family moved to Florida. In 2010, Mazal co-founded and managed the first Israeli Ladies group, Forum Nashim, in Aventura. The Forum provides social and intellectual enrichment to its Hebrew speaking members. As part of the Hebrew University alumni committee, Mazal is helping by expanding the audience at lectures, introduce new donors, and host events.


Currently, Mazal is a Senior Wealth Director at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, a firm that has more than two centuries of experience in providing services to clients who today include financially successful individuals and families, their business enterprises, planned giving programs, and endowments and foundations.

As a Senior Wealth Director in the Miami office, she matches prospective clients with financial solutions using her background in economics to help her clients understand macro and micro trends.


Mazal at the 2018 ALEF Conference


Mazal is also co-leading the Israeli Business Group in Florida. This organization has members who are Israeli-American business owners and executives and its mission is to promote and strengthen the relationships in the Israeli American business community and to become the primary contact choice for Israeli companies who look to grow in the U.S.


Israel Prize in literature to be awarded to David Grossman

Author David Grossman will be awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature and poetry, the Education Ministry announced on Monday.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett approved the recommendation of the prize committee headed by Prof. Avner Holtzman and congratulated Grossman.

“Since the early 1980’s, David Grossman has taken his place at the center of Israeli culture and he is one of the most profound, moving, and influential voices in our literature,” the prize committee wrote in its decision.

In his novels, books, essays, documentary writing, in his extensive creations for children, he presented a series of masterpieces that excel in rich imagination, deep wisdom, human sensitivity, a poignant moral stand and a unique and resonant language,” the prize committee wrote.

The committee added that Grossman is one of the most “famous, admired, and beloved” Israeli writers in the world and that his books have been translated into dozens of languages.

Bennett defended giving the prize to an author who has been outspoken in his opposition to construction in Israeli settlements and has even backed the European labeling of products from over the Green Line. He told The Jerusalem Post that he has faced criticism from the Right for the decision but that he had no regrets.

“There are issues on which I disagree with him, but no dispute will remove from the magic of his books,” Bennett said. “He is an Israeli patriot who gave the dearest of all to Israel (his son, Staff Sgt. Uri Grossman, 20,  was killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War). He is not an author of the Left and I am not the education minister of the Right. Hezbollah didn’t ask who is Right and Left and secular and religious when boys with different views were killed in the same tank.”

Grossman, born in Jerusalem, has written countless novels and children’s books including To the End of the Land, A Horse Walks into a Bar, The Book of Intimate Grammar and Someone to Run With.

On Sunday evening, the Education Ministry also announced the Israel Prize winners for research in physics and in psychology.

Prof. Shlomo Havlin, of Bar Ilan University, will receive the prize for his research in the field of physics.

“Prof. Havlin is one of the pioneers of a number of fields in statistical physics and its implications for complex systems in different areas,” the prize committee wrote in its decision. “Prof. Havlin deals with the generalization of knowledge in physical fields to the broadest areas, such as social networks, technological networks, economic networks, political systems, physiological systems and DNA function.”

The committee added that of all Israeli scientists, Prof. Havlin is the most cited by scientists around the world.
“He devotes his time and energies to imparting contemporary science to youth and contributes greatly to the creation of scientific ties between Israel and the world,” it wrote.

Prof. Yitzhak Shlesinger, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was awarded the Israel Prize for his research in psychology.

In its decision, the prize committee wrote that Shlesinger is one of the most important scientists in the field of psycholinguistics, contributing to the study of language processing and language development in children.

“He was a pioneer in the documentation and conceptualization of sign language in Israel. His work in the field of Talmudic argumentation, in connections with general issues in linguistic expression, is a unique contribution. His innovations are deeply entwined in Hebrew culture and language,” the prize committee wrote.

The Israel Prize is largely regarded as the state’s highest honor. It is presented annually on Independence Day in a state ceremony in Jerusalem in the presence of the president, the prime minister, the Knesset speaker and the Supreme Court president.

Read the source article at Jpost


Boaz Keysar

A surprising study shows how your brain may process information differently.

Suppose you were about to bet on a sporting event, like this weekend’s Super Bowl. Before making the decision if you should bet on the Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots, would it make a difference if you were given each team’s stats in English or another language you happen to know?

You would think not, as the information you’re receiving is basically the same. But researchers have found that people make more deliberate and careful decisions when it’s being done in a foreign language. Why? Because having to think in another language requires more cognitive power. And by having to think it through more thoroughly, you’re more likely to make a rational decision.

The research – which looked at a wide range of issues including moral dilemmas and workplace issues – was led by Boaz Keysar. The Israel-born professor, who studied at Hebrew University and Princeton, is now the chair of the Cognition Program at the University of Chicago. “It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic,” he explained. “We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases.”

Added his colleague Sayuri L. Hayakawa: “Your native language is acquired from your family, from your friends, from television. It becomes infused with all these emotions.”

Keysar’s goal was to tie all this research together. “I knew about the findings that people are less connected emotionally in their foreign language, and also knew about research in decision-making that shows that emotional reactions make us biased,” he said. “Somehow I connected the two and that got me thinking maybe that would lead people to make decisions differently in a foreign language.” Previous research has shown that bilingual people are also faster thinkers.

Students in Keysar’s lab recently released a new study which takes these findings a step further. They discovered that describing certain foods in a foreign language reduces our aversion to them. For example, if people knew they were being served snails, they might flinch. But when a restaurant puts the term “escargot” on the menu, the dish seems more palatable.

This dish looks delicious, but does it make a difference if it&squot;s called "escargot" or "snails"?This dish looks delicious, but does it make a difference if it’s called ‘escargot’ or ‘snails?’ (Photo: Shakim888 / Shutterstock)

Keysar is next interested in looking at whether language can be usefully considered in decisions made by doctors speaking a foreign language. “You might be able to predict differences in medical decision-making depending on the language that you use,” he said. “In some cases you might prefer a stronger emotional engagement, in some you might not.”

Keysar’s work on perception and bias is rooted in the research of fellow Israeli Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. Kahneman, who served as a mentor to famed behavioral economist Dan Ariely, was also the subject of a bestselling book by Michael Lewis last year.

Ok, so now we know how foreign languages can impact our decision-making process. But, um, what about sexy accents?

Read the source article at From the Grapevine


Rabbi Michael Beals

Rabbi Michael Beals was born in San Francisco, California. After studying as an undergrad at U. C. Berkeley, he moved to Washington, D.C. to study at the School of International Studies at The American University (AU). During his studies at AU, Rabbi Beals’ parents worried about his commitment to Israel and wanted to send their only son there for two weeks to ‘fix’ him. Michael claimed he would need an ENTIRE YEAR to ‘be repaired.’

OYP 87-88 with (L-R) Jon Boyer and Susie (Ugent) Berg


Celebrating his 25th birthday with friends

With the help of the Rothberg School for International Students’ Dov Friedlander, who was making his first Hebrew University recruitment trip to AU, Michael applied and received a 1987-88 Raoul Wallenberg Scholarship for an entire year at Hebrew University. The scholarship was funded by philanthropist Fred Schwartz, z”l, who hoped to give students, like Rabbi Beals, an aspiring diplomat, a year to truly absorb Israel and gain valuable leadership skills.

Rabbi Beals studied history and politics, and fell in love with campus life at Hebrew University, the Hebrew language, his Jewish heritage, the land and people of Israel, and his fellow students at Hebrew University. Several of his fellow students later served as groomsmen in his wedding party (Jon Boyer-best man, Marc Krell, Jonathan Wernick, Rabbi Mark Robbins). Two of these classmates (Rabbi Mark Robbins and Jewish educator Marc Krell) also helped pave his way to rabbinical school. Dr. Eric Berger, through a wedding invitation in Philadelphia, put Beals on a path to become the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware, where he has served for the past 13 years of his 20-year rabbinate. (In his capacity as rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, Rabbi Beals is able to assist his congregant and friend, Seth Bloom, in his important work as the new Director of the Philadelphia Office of American Friends of the Hebrew University).

With Andrew Singer at Hebrew U 87-88 reunion

Rabbi Beals learned many, many important things during his year in the Wallenberg Program at Hebrew University.  One of lessons was that it is crucial, as a Jew, to serve on Israel’s unofficial “hasbara” team, providing fellow Americans a more complete, nuanced explanation of Zionist history and Israel’s current political situation, especially as it involves Palestinians and the challenging peace process. Had Beals NOT attended Hebrew University, it is highly unlikely that he would have changed careers from a government service/international relations track to passionately pursuing the rabbinate as a Conservative rabbi, serving both the Jewish people in the United States and in the State of Israel as a passionate advocate and educator.


Andrew L. Shapiro

Andrew Shapiro, a member of AFHU’s Northeast regional board, has spent the last two decades working at the nexus of new technologies and societal transformation, with a focus for more than 15 years on energy and environmental innovation. In 2012, he founded Broadscale Group, a new model of investment firm that is working with a network of leading energy corporations to commercialize the industry’s most promising innovations.

He has invested in, advised and served on the boards of more than 20 startups. Mr. Shapiro recently co-founded Resourcient, a new initiative to promote scalable investment in resource-efficient businesses. In 2000, he founded GreenOrder, a strategic advisory firm that worked with more than 100 leading enterprises. Mr. Shapiro worked with GE’s leadership on the creation and execution of its ecomagination initiative; worked with GM on strategic issues including the launch of the Chevrolet Volt; and served as the green advisor for 7 World Trade Center, New York City’s first LEED-certified office tower.

Mr. Shapiro has been a visiting faculty member at Columbia and Yale and a fellow at Harvard, and he is the author of two books and dozens of articles. A regular speaker at conferences, he has been described by Fortune  as “green business’ go-to guy” and profiled by The New York Times as “A Dollars-and-Cents Man with a Green Philosophy.”

In May 2017, Mr. Shapiro, a Hebrew University alumnus, was a speaker at NEXUS:ISRAEL, an interactive conference in New York presented by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that brought together leading finance, investment, and business professionals with innovators, entrepreneurs and Nobel Laureates from the spheres of health, agriculture, nanotechnology, environmental and life sciences, and computer science.

Mr. Shapiro served as an event chair at the 2018 President’s International Business Leadership Forum in June 2018, a unique 3-day program designed to engage and connect global business leaders with Israeli innovation and ingenuity in Jerusalem, Israel.


Lanita Warner

Lanita Warner was a youth exchange student in Israel when she first learned about the Hebrew University (HU). At the feet of Har Ha’tzofim (Mount Scopus), her tour guide pointed up and said, “Look, at the top of that mountain is the HU: the Harvard of the Middle East where Nobel Laureates are born.” Those words struck a chord with her. Lanita was already deeply attached to Israel and wanted to return, so she decided to attend HU. The following year she studied at the Rothberg International School at HU (RIS) for a semester, after which she enrolled in an M.A. degree program.

It was RIS’s dynamic learning experience that encouraged her to return for her Masters. “When I consider my experiences at RIS, the buzzword that comes to mind is ‘well-rounded.’ I learned from the RIS’s faculty, staff, internships, day trips, Shabbaton getaways, and my peers.” She, like many of her peers, chose RIS for its academic and experiential learning opportunities. “HU utilizes the land of Israel as a classroom itself, which is why every student leaves with a wealth of knowledge.”

A RIS M.A. graduate of Jewish Studies, and the 2013-2014 recipient of the Dr. Sarah Mekler Weisz Prize for Outstanding Students, Lanita wishes to support her alma mater in an administrative role. This November, she joins American Friends of the Hebrew University as their Alumni Relations Coordinator. “I am grateful to be joining the AFHU family, because I desire to reinvest skills that I developed as a student at RIS.” Her central focus is “to kick-start a domino effect of alumni support, one that fuels and reignites alumni passion for the HU, and ensures the continuation of education and research at HU.”


Liraz Cohen Mordechai

Israel and fashion? Two things that are always in style! Hear how Hebrew University alumna Liraz Cohen Mordechai (Liri) combines them through Fashionating by Liri Inc. The company was established in 2016 to empower Israeli fashion designers, brands, and companies, and to bring Israel’s story through a new and unique perspective of fashion. So far, Liri presented her lecture in over 50 organizations across North America.

Liri is a fashion lecturer and NYC fashion blogger who is currently earning a Master’s degree in Global Fashion Management from FIT. Liri also manages the NY- Israel Fash&Tech Meetup community and, as a certified stylist, is deeply involved in the fashion industry in NYC. Prior to working at Duke, Liri was ZARA Israel’s Training and Development Department Manager responsible for the fashion, leadership, and educational training for 1,700 employees in over 50 stores. Additionally, Liri has over 10 years of experience in facilitating educational activities.


Idan Shalev

I arrived at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the summer of 2005 with the goal of completing a Master’s degree in neurobiology, having recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. I was enrolled in the master’s program of Brain and Behavior at the Givat Ram campus, and during my first year I was already looking for a lab where I could pursue my doctoral degree. Luckily, I was able to join the lab of Professor Richard Ebstein, a leading expert in the field of behavioral genetics. After successfully completing my master’s degree, I began my Ph.D. studies, under the supervision of Professor Ebstein, in the Department of Neurobiology at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center. My doctoral research focused on the molecular genetic underpinning of the stress response in humans. This interest in the biology of exposure to stress, and the consequence of early adverse exposure on health in later life, emerged while serving as a medic in the paratroopers’ brigade in the Israeli Defense Forces.

My research as a Ph.D. student entailed an interdisciplinary investigation into the biomarkers of social stress in healthy human subjects. This research integrated the disciplines of molecular genetics, endocrinology, neurobiology and psychology. The goal of my dissertation was to dissect the biological and psychological properties of the stress response in human subjects. I tested how variations in different genes, as well as environmental measures of stressful life events, influenced neuro-endocrine response to an experimentally administered social stressor (i.e., the Trier Social Stress Test, TSST). Our results extended the body of evidence outlining the connection between common genetic variations, environmental measures of stressful life events, and social stress response in humans. In addition, my work also examined the involvement of two molecules, oxytocin and vasopressin, in modulating the human social brain. Since many animals display varying degrees of social behaviors, the evolution and selection of genes that foster such behaviors is of considerable interest. These behaviors include social stress, the quality of pair bonding, parenting, in-group and out-group relationships and social communications. Our findings indicated that common genetic variations modulates social stress and social behavior in healthy human subjects. Overall, this body of work enhanced our understanding on intriguing number of social behaviors that resonates across species.

After completing my Ph.D., I spent a few months in Singapore working with my Ph.D. adviser where I examined the effects of stress on economic decision making, before moving to Duke University for my postdoctoral training. In the Fall of 2011, I joined the lab of Professors Avshalom Capsi and Terrie Moffitt, world-renown experts in gene-environment interplay and developmental psychopathology. At Duke, I developed expertise in the new field of telomere science, a promising new biomarker of stress and aging. Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect our genetic material. Over time, as telomeres become shorter and weaker, cells age and die, which can lead to increased disease rates. Studies have linked shorter telomeres to a wide range of aging-related diseases, including dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. My work with telomeres explores the influence of life stress on telomere shortening. Specifically, our research tests the effects of stress during childhood on change in telomere length across the life course and the consequences of change in telomere length for physical and mental health problems. In the first study of children, I showed that cumulative violence exposure was associated with accelerated telomere erosion, from age five to age 10, for children who experienced violence at a young age. This finding provided initial support for a mechanism linking cumulative childhood stress to telomere maintenance, observed already at a young age, with potential impact for life-long health.

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University. My work continues to explore the influence of stress throughout the life course on biological processes that can contribute to diseases and early mortality. My goal is to be able to characterize behavioral and molecular targets for public health surveillance and clinical treatment applications aimed at understanding and mitigating the consequences of stress exposure. My career would not have happened without my experience growing up in Israel, and the outstanding training and knowledge I gained during my time at the Hebrew University, which for me was always considered to be the best place in Israel to pursue higher academic degrees. I am a proud alumni member of the Hebrew University and I hope to continue to represent the University the best way I can.


Tamar Hoffman

My relationship with the Hebrew University started before I can even remember. In fact, it started before I was in anyone’s plans. My grandfather, Shalom Paska, was one of the first graduates of the faculty of law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He attended the school with some of Israel’s leading counselors and Supreme Court judges and served the justice system in Israel for over than 50 years.

My father also attended HU  and studied economics and met my mother in Jerusalem before graduating. This, of course, led to me. Like my grandfather, I also graduated from the law faculty of Hebrew University. The period of my life at HU broadened my world and changed the way I carry myself today. There is an indescribable proud sensation you feel, knowing that like other great people; you are a part of this institution.

The amazing student life in Jerusalem is possible due to the high-quality and unique community which attends this school. I can easily name future leaders, politicians and judges that I  met at the university which will be, if not already are, in actively pursuit of making a better Israel and a better world. The entire educational and social experience is only strengthened by the incredibly diverse and colorful city of Jerusalem, which offers live music, art, history, bustling bars and marketplaces to shop in preparation for Shabbat.


Kevin Dwarka

I received my Ph.D. from Hebrew University’s Federmann School of Public Policy and Government. I wrote my dissertation on the politics surrounding the Jerusalem Light Rail project. I had the fortune of working with an amazing advisor, Eran Feitelson. While studying, I took full advantage of all the various resources at Hebrew University–taking courses not only in public policy but also in Jewish studies. I also spent a semester in Hebrew University’s Havruta program, an intensive Talmud study program that did wonders for my Hebrew and helped connect me to students from so many different departments.

While writing my dissertation, I also worked on a variety of professional planning initiatives including a study of smart growth and sustainable development through the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. After receiving my degree, I devoted myself to building my urban planning firm in New York City. Headquartered on Wall Street, my practice helps municipalities and private developers revitalize their neighborhoods and downtowns through public transit. My professional practice is informed by the valuable lessons I learned at HU about infrastructure finance. I am currently converting my dissertation on the Jerusalem Light Rail into a book about the ways the project has transformed Jerusalem, both culturally and politically.

I keep very connected to Israel. I try to visit twice a year and am very involved with the New Israel Fund, where I serve on the New Generations Steering Committee and support a range of outreach programs that advance social justice and pluralism in Israel. Recently, I taught an Israeli environmental politics course at Yeshiva University. I would not trade my five years of living in Israel for anything. My father went to both college and medical school at Hebrew University during the 60s, so my HU degree further strengthened our family’s ties to Jerusalem and the university.


Bill Zanker

AFHU spoke with Hebrew University alumnus, Bill Zanker. Bill is founder of The Learning Annex, a leader in adult continuing live and online education. Zanker is also a successful businessman, entrepreneur and author.

On choosing Hebrew University…

I grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, in a middle class family. At 18, I wanted to go to college and thought Jerusalem was a very special place. I thought HU interesting and decided to go there without family or friends.  I spent four years and received my B.A. in political science and international relations.

On his time at Hebrew University…

I was on the Mount Scopus campus for the first year on a program for new immigrants, and spent the remainder of the time on the Givat Ram campus. The Israelis were totally different than American students, they were older and more mature, so I had to grow up fast. The Israelis, having just finished the army, had jobs and some had families. They [Israeli students] adopted me very quickly and made me feel comfortable. I had one group of friends who came from all over the world from places such as Turkey and Switzerland. The other group was the Israelis who were very special.

On how his time at HU influenced his life…

My HU experience taught me to be independent and manage on my own. I didn’t speak the language or fully understand the culture, which made me become resourceful. This helped shape my career in the business world. It also taught me how to integrate into any situation because I was exposed to so many different experiences. I remember taking  the #9 bus from Mount Scopus and sitting next to a woman with a crate of chickens; feathers were flying all over the place. It was definitely different than what I was used to; in Teaneck we didn’t really go on buses or have to deal with live chickens!

I had difficulty in some of my classes because I didn’t understand Hebrew fully, but the professors were very helpful, serious, understanding and caring. Caring–that’s probably the best word to describe my instructors at HU. It wasn’t just a factory or a degree; they wanted you to leave with a sense of purpose. The idea was to take this knowledge, go into the world and do something with it.

On what role alumni play for a college/university…

I was always surprised we didn’t have an alumni program. For many years, I kept quiet about my university experience because no one understood HU in America. I was doing a business deal one time and colleagues asked where I went to school. When I told them, they asked if it was a yeshiva or something similar. I said, ‘No, it’s one of the greatest universities in the Middle East.’ That was 15 years ago. We need to let the world know that some of the best and the brightest are HU graduates. As HU alumni we could be a powerful force in the U.S. We could change things and influence perceptions. We should be proud of where we went to school and what HU represents.

Like other universities that have alumni groups, we need an alumni network in the U.S. It’s an immediate family. For example, my friend went to Harvard and when we needed a lawyer in North Carolina during a trip we were able to find one through his alumni group. HU alumni are very diverse and talented; we are in a great position to help each other and create a strong HU network.

On how could HU can help Israel…

It’s the core of the leadership of what Israel is all about. You have some of the greatest minds at HU.

On what inspires him…

The Learning Annex– this was my way of continuing my wonderful experience of learning at HU. I created a business to keep on learning! It has been the core of my career. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur, but my main passion has always been the love of learning and developing a marketplace for people to teach other people what they know. That was very much what it was like at HU– you have these great professors who taught their skills and shared their knowledge with others.

On why education should be democratized…

At HU, anybody could go and get an education. When I went, everyone had to the opportunity to learn, which to me is just the greatest thing in the world. Even if students didn’t have the money, they could still go to HU, learn and receive an amazing education.

On the importance of education in today’s society…

It is the ‘end all’ of everything. If someone has an education and a skill, he or she can keep on growing in life. What I love about the Learning Annex and what I do is you can keep on learning; it’s a life-long process. People need different learning and skills for different seasons of their lives. That makes life, your skill set and your career interesting.

On never taking ‘no’ as an answer…

This has been my standard. My success has been based on the belief that there is  no such thing as ‘no.’ ‘No’ just means I haven’t presented my idea in the right way yet. If you’re determined and want something, you will get to yes. This is what I do and what I tell my kids to do. ‘No’ is just the beginning of someone saying ‘yes.’


Eric Stein

My family has been involved with Hebrew University for as long as I can remember.  In fact, one of my earliest memories is attending the dedication of the Sinatra cafeteria where Frank Sinatra took my then 2-year-old sister, Emily, in his arms and sang a verse of his song of the same name.

From auspicious beginnings come great things. My own relationship with Hebrew University started in the summer of 1989 when I attended the Rothberg International School on Mount Scopus and volunteered in Eilat the university’s marine biology lab. At Rothberg, I took a Middle East political science course and an archaeology course; these courses began a lifelong interest in history, (I was a European history major at University of Pennsylvania) Israel, and the Israeli geopolitical situation that is still very much with me today.  On subsequent trips to Israel, I find myself recalling the significance of the Third Wall, how its physical location relative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre speaks to the latter’s religious meaning; Robinson’s arch on the Western Wall and many other things I studied that summer. I can’t help but reflect on the lessons of the political science course in the pages of the daily news.

Although my own professional life has had little to do with marine biology, that experience, too, fed an enduring interest in marine issues like sustainability and fish farming that are with us today. Not to mention being a great, albeit small, window into the great research that Hebrew University conducts in so many fields.

Today, I live in Palo Alto, moving from New York to work for Google eight years ago, and am President of the AFHU Northwest Region. We are a small region, but one with great promise. Just look at PM Netanyahu’s trip here last year; he appeared with Governor Brown to promote water conservation and the great sustainability and environmental conservation research done by HU.  I don’t think I would have an appreciation for these issues, nor would they have as much personal relevance for me, without having studied at the Rothberg School at Hebrew University.


Alex Sorin

Hebrew University alumnus, Alex Sorin, is the CEO and co-founder of Foreigncy (, a language training website for professional and aspiring linguists. In 2010, Alex received his M.A. in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the university’s Rothberg International School.

What is Foreigncy? 

Foreigncy is a language training website for intermediate to advanced learners of Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Urdu, Russian, and Mandarin. It was created to prepare university -level language students for jobs that demand an advanced level of language proficiency. On Foreigncy, the daily language sets use mixed media tools such as flashcards and quiz games to prepare users to read articles from foreign language news sources. By integrating news with language learning, students receive real world context that changes from day to day and helps them stay attuned to world events.

What role did your time at the Hebrew University play in creating the company?

When I arrived at Hebrew University in the summer of 2008, I quickly realized how unprepared I was to converse in either Arabic or Hebrew, despite four years of study as an undergraduate. The intensity and structure of HU’s Arabic and Hebrew language programs laid the foundation for me to become a professional linguist. It was the first time that I took a language class where the teachers approached it as training rather than an elective.


Why did you pick Hebrew University?

When I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school for Middle Eastern studies, I knew I had to pick a school where I could learn from experts renowned in their fields, both academically and professionally.  I found both at Hebrew University. In addition, I wanted to learn in an environment where I could be immersed in Arabic and Hebrew, something that I could only find going abroad. My Arabic professors had spent their entire careers using the language in government or the IDF, which has a completely different learning approach than most traditional universities. My other professors were also distinguished in their fields, and some of them had actually played a part in or witnessed the events they were teaching. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

What are your goals for Foreigncy and your future?

My hope is that Foreigncy will become the premiere language learning resource for intermediate to advanced students who are passionate about turning their love for languages into careers that impact our world. We’ve been lucky enough to build a team of devoted linguists who dedicate their evenings to working on the site to help others. We all believe that we are creating something special for language learners, including ourselves.

As for the future, my time in Israel and at the university taught me that as long as I’m applying and improving my language skills for an important cause, I’ll be happy. My goal is to keep holding on to that belief and see where it takes me.


Charlotte Parker

Charlotte Parker is considered one of the premiere public relations specialists and image-makers in the country.  Profiled in The Columbia Journalism Review, she has appeared as a media image analyst on CNN, MSNBC and the E! Channel.  Charlotte specializes in creating media profiles and public images for her clients, both corporate and personal, which have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Planet Hollywood, and Fitness Publisher and icon Joe Weider. She also serves on the boards of the Bruce Lee Foundation and Operation Unity, which sends inner city kids to spend time in Israel.

My whole life I was looking forward to the junior year my parents promised me I would take at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  I went as part of the American Friends program in association with Stern College for Women.  It did not disappoint.

When I arrived at school the Mt. Scopus Campus was full, so a lot of the junior year participants were placed in a large apartment complex in Kiryat Yovel which was used just for HU students.  We were 11 girls in one large apartment with about five bedrooms and several bathrooms sharing a large kitchen.  I made friends that remain among my closest to this day.

I never took an ulpan course, but the religious and biblical studies in original, ancient Hebrew during my many years of day school in Cleveland, Ohio helped me and somehow, through daily immersion, I picked up modern Hebrew in which I am still fluent.

Hebrew University introduced me to people from all over the world and helped me embark on a life-long love affair with the country of Israel.  I returned to Hebrew University for a Master’s program a few years later, and have visited many times since.  I am proud that I have been able to transfer these feelings to my daughter, Ruth, who also spent time studying in Israel.  We enjoy speaking Hebrew together and have fun using it when we don’t want my husband to understand what we’re saying.

Professionally, I create a media image and profile for people and companies that need this service.  I use the skills acquired from my experiences at Hebrew University, both in the classroom and beyond, virtually every day.  My time there was one of the defining experiences of my life and I am so happy that there is now a way to connect with fellow alumni.


Helen Epstein

I arrived at the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University shortly after the Six-Day War, with thousands of other mitnadvim from all over the world. Officially, I was a one year student on my junior year abroad, but I soon decided to change my status and become a regular student majoring in English Literature and Musicology.

My first educational experience was the university ulpan — Kita Gimel with Miri — six days a week, six hours a day (as I remember it, two for newspapers and current events, two for grammar, and two for learning the vocabulary of my majors. I remember savoring the words, like  “alila”  for plot.

Many of HU’s most famous professors and alums are scientists, but I’m here to say that the Humanities professors were also extraordinary:  Ruth Katz for Music History; Arieh Zaks for Metaphysical Poetry; Hillel Daleski for twentieth century English novels; Alice Shalvi for Shakespeare. I improved my English reading and writing skills in Jerusalem, as well as learning to speak Hebrew.

In June of 1968, I finished exams and set off for summer vacation in the U.S. via Europe with a Greek and a Hungarian-Brazilian student (one of the extracurricular benefits of HU was finding an international group of friends). In Prague (my birthplace), I was caught in the Soviet Invasion, wrote an article about it, and mailed it to the Jerusalem Post. They published it and, when I returned to HU for my second year, features editor Erwin Frenkel offered me a part-time job as university correspondent. At 20, still an undergrad, I became a journalist, writing features about student life in Jerusalem.

Helen Epstein 1

I returned to New York after graduation to go to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Since then, I have freelanced for the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, New York, the New Yorker, and have written six books. They include Children of the Holocaust, one of the first books on the inter-generational transmission of trauma; and Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for her Mother’s History — both of which have been widely translated but not into Hebrew. With my techie husband, I co-founded Plunkett Lake Press (, an electronic press which republishes ebooks of non-fiction on multiple platforms — many of them of Jewish interest, including memoirs by Abba and Suzy Eban, Chaim and Vera Weizmann ( and Stefan and Friderike Zweig. I am particularly interested in memoirs by women and our list features memoirs by Eva Hoffman, Charlotte Wolff and myself.

My years in Israel remain key to my identity as a writer. I first visited Israel in 1964, at 16, to work for a summer in Kibbutz Yakum. That kibbutz and Jerusalem remained my touchstones in Israel. My husband has family in Haifa and through them, I have explored the north. We enjoy supporting not only HU but other leading Israeli institutions. I am looking forward to next winter to visit an Israel I do not yet know and exploring Tel Aviv.


Talia Carner

Talia Carner was the publisher of Savvy Woman magazine. A former adjunct professor at Long Island University School of Management and a marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies, she was also a volunteer counselor and lecturer for the Small Business Administration and a member of United States Information Agency (USIA) missions to Russia. She participated at the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, where she sat on economic panels and helped develop political campaigns for Indian and African women. Ms. Carner’s first novel, Puppet Child, was listed in “The Top 10 Favorite First Novels 2002” and launched a nationwide legislation (The Protective Parent Reform Act). China Doll made Amazon’s bestsellers list and served as the platform for Ms. Carner’s presentation at the U.N. in 2007 about infanticide in China—the first ever in U.N. history. Her novel, Jerusalem Maiden, won the Forward National Literature Award in the “historical fiction” category. In June 2015, HarperCollins released Carner’s newest novel, Hotel Moscow, which tells the story of the daughter of Holocaust survivors who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism.

On the Basis for Her New Book, Hotel Moscow

In 1993 I was running my marketing consulting firm for Fortune 500 companies. I also volunteered for the Small Business Administration, specifically for women’s programs in New York.  The USIA asked me to go to Russia to teach women business skills (this was shortly after the fall of communism).  My first trip in May 1993 was an amazing, eye-opening experience; I learned about a highly educated group of women, many were doctors and engineers, who were essentially reduced to being ‘hunters and gathers.’ After the fall of communism, the country had no legal system so female lawyers lost their jobs, not to mention medical and social services.  Speaking to these female professionals and learning their stories left a lasting impression upon me.

Six months later I returned, landing in Russia only a few hours after the uprising against the president, Boris Yeltsin. I asked ‘too many’ questions and the militia came after me, forcing me to seek refuge at the U.S. Embassy. I wrote a 23-page report of this experience, and a friend encouraged me to turn it into a novel, launching my writing career. After intense research, incorporating my story and the stories about the Russian women I met, the book never got published. Despite this, I had already begun work on my next book. My second completed novel was published and started my official ‘successful’ writing career.

On Her Writing Process

I initially tried to write about domestic issues. Instead, my stories are all international and have a large canvas. The topics that I’ve written about it, such as infanticide and women’s rights–I learn about these issues and they grab a hold on me until I write about it. Each of my books took about five years from start to finish.

Sometimes the plot for a story comes to me and I can’t stop thinking about it. For my latest book, Hotel Moscow, I had this idea about a New York liberal Jewish woman who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. I combined it with my first book based on my experience in Russia.

Writing a novel is crafting something very fine. Specifically for Hotel Moscow, because it deals with the Holocaust, I wanted to offer a new perspective, which is that of a second-generation Holocaust survivor.

There is no story about a person who is beaten by life. People want to read about the interesting story of the human spirit rising above negative issues that control our lives, be it psychological, economical, geographical or political.

On Studying at Hebrew University

I studied sociology and psychology at the Hebrew University. As part of my studies, I learned an enormous amount of statistics, which was immensely helpful in my prior career. Because I understood statistics, I was able to find trends others couldn’t. As an HU student, I also had to be very disciplined to study for hours and hours in order to succeed. This work ethic has continued throughout my life.

On Women’s Rights

I didn’t embrace being a feminist until later in life. Growing up, I was admonished if I asked too many questions. Even when I was in the hospital for the birth of my first child, the doctors ignored my questions. Finally embracing feminism was incredibly liberating. Eventually I felt confident enough and felt compelled to help other women. I even named my marketing consulting company ‘Business Women Marketing Corporation,’ and the profits went to training and educating women.

One of the only ways for women to improve status and grow is through education. We see in underdeveloped countries a huge difference in an older marriage ages, lower numbers of children leading to lower birth mortality rates and other positive changes. More importantly, when women are educated, they tend to work and when they do, a chain of events can happen. A husband can stop physical abuse, a wife’s in-laws stop enslaving them, their sons get a new vision of what women can be like and their daughters have hope for their futures. Furthermore, professional women are more likely to run for leadership positions and will support other women to start their own businesses. Sometimes you educate one woman and you educate a village.

On Her Leadership Roles

For 30 years I’ve been involved with Maccabi USA since my husband, Ron Carner, is the president. I’m amazed at how the Maccabi games bring Jews together from all around the world. For about the last 10 years, I’ve become more interested in helping Jewish women, which is why I’m on the board of Hadassah Brandeis Institute and for the last few years, on the board for the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.


Ron Nissim

My experience at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem began in the summer of 2007, when I was at the Lieberman Dormitories at the Givat Ram campus. At that time I was waiting for the fall to start the master’s program at the Applied Physics Department and in the meantime had begun acquainting myself with the campus’s magnificent vista and my new neighbors.

Having recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics, I was looking for a good springboard to jump-start my career to the next phase and this turned out to be the program to be in. Unlike any other academic institution, the Hebrew University managed to create a unique department by recruiting outstanding faculty with broad technological experience, including a former Ivy League professor, entrepreneurs, top-notched physicists and technological pioneers who are well versed in both two worlds of academic and industry.

The atmosphere in the department was great and promoted the exchange of ideas and free discussions. On top of that, as Israel is mainly an informal culture, I was able to get a personal sense of their character and of their scientific attitude; which is very helpful for young aspiring scientists who are eager to grow and develop a healthy and prosperous career.

As a HU student

As a HU student

During the program, I decided to pursue an old dream and apply to a Ph.D. program abroad. I wanted to gain international experience and experience life abroad, in addition to enhancing my career, with the goal of returning home. As I sought after recommendation letters, one of my professors asked me where I planned to apply. Normally it’s recommended to apply to a dozen places, but I had decided to apply to only three top-notch institutions. After sharing my plans, his replied that I should try University of California, San Diego. Two months after I sent my application, I received a message from a well-known professor of that institution, extending an offer to join his group.

Following that offer, I spent the next five years in the Ph.D. program, performing research on fiber-optics, leading to a successful graduation and even a publication in Science magazine, a leading global journal. During that period I also met my wife, a native San Diegan who is now very much familiar with Israel and has joined me on this great journey.

We are currently happily living in sunny San Diego, as I search for my next challenge, whether it will be entrepreneurial or industry-related. Even though I am currently abroad, I have been maintaining a personal relationship with the faculty of The Hebrew University, through exchanging emails, meeting at international optics conferences in the United States or visiting the campus when I fly to Israel. For me, the Hebrew University is a lasting relationship where I can share my growth, receive advice and enjoy learning about exciting research. I look forward to continuing this connection in the future and watching HU grow.

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