By: Samuel Gelman (Houston, Texas) | Features  | 

GPATS After Brander

When Rabbi Kenneth Brander, former Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University, left to become President and Rosh haYeshiva at Ohr Torah Stone in Israel, the vacancy created by his departure was not filled. Instead, Yeshiva University decided to assign the positions to current YU administrators; Vice President Josh Joseph took over Student Life while Rabbi Berman took over the Center for the Jewish Future and YU Israel. GPATS, the Graduate Program In Advanced Talmudic Studies For Women, however, was left in partial limbo.

“Rabbi Berman and I are working on that [hiring a visionhead],” said Rabbi Brander in an interview with The Observer from October 2017.

“As someone who was exceptionally devoted to the mission and execution of GPATS, I think we were all curious to see how the program would evolve without [Rabbi Brander’s] leadership,” said Talia Molotsky, the current GPATS Program Manager.

However, even before Rabbi Brander left, the staff of GPATS mobilized to ensure that the program would have a stable and bright future ahead. This included getting the necessary commitments for the financial stability of the program.

“We had a meeting with President Berman at the time that Rabbi Brander had made it official that he was leaving and he assured us that GPATS is here to stay and he would see to it that there would be funding,” said Rabbi Moshe Kahn, a Talmud rabbi at GPATS who has taught there since its founding. “Whatever concern initially we might have had when we found out that Rabbi Brander was leaving, I feel President Berman assured us, and I’m taking him at his word, that he is very committed to GPATS, and he made it very clear to us that the funding will be provided for GPATS.”

The fundraising is conducted by the Office of Institutional Advancement, with President Berman and Provost Dr. Selma Botman, with assistance from her Chief of Staff, Stu Halpern, leading the charge.

“Rabbi Berman is a major fan of our program and wants our program to exist and, therefore, Yeshiva University supports our program and is going to be raising money for our program,” said Professor Nechama Price, Director of GPATS.

According to Price, Botman also took on all of Rabbi Brander’s previous responsibilities. Neither Price nor Botman would clarify what these exact responsibilities are, with Price only saying that “she is in charge of the program. So, in theory, everything that Rabbi Brander did, that is what she does now. She is responsible for overseeing the entire program.”

It is unclear if Botman is filling the role of the “visionhead” that Rabbi Brander referred to, as Rabbi Brander could not be reached for comment. Price declined to comment on the matter. President Berman did not offer comment on the leadership, only saying that “deep Jewish learning is essential for empowering our students to spread positive Jewish values to the world. We are working to grow post-college opportunities for women at YU to grow in their Torah studies in the most advanced settings.”  

Botman did not offer comment on the specific finances of GPATS, only stating that “Nechama Price, the Office of Institutional Advancement and I are all working closely together to ensure the financial sustainability of GPATS.” However, the program did raise $84,489 in the #YUHero campaign, more than the Center for the Jewish Future, Sy Syms School of Business and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies each individually raised.

Dean Karen Bacon, Mordechai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Yeshiva University, is also involved in GPATS. Price commented that since the program takes place in the Beit Midrash of Stern College, Bacon "is, therefore, someone who is available to advise me if I need to speak to her about something or the students." Though it is unclear what responsibilities fall exactly under Bacons' purview, Price expressed that the dean is "very supportive of the GPATS program."

As for Price, she is more engaged in the day-to-day operations of the program, including recruitment, interviews, curriculum development and control of the budget. For more significant decisions, she consults with Botman, a similar relationship she had with Rabbi Brander.

Concerning recruitment, the program is currently in its smallest year since its inception, with eight women currently enrolled in the program. This is one student less than GPATS’ previous low of nine students. However, Price is hopeful that that three more students will be joining the program in the spring, bringing the numbers back up to 11 students, above the average number for the last five years. The numbers for the last five years (including the current year) are nine students in 2014 - 2015, nine students in 2015 - 2016, 13 students in 2016 - 2017, 12 students in 2017 - 2018 and eight students 2018 - 2019.

Despite these low numbers, the staff and students of GPATS are still confident in the program, its future and the opportunities it creates.

“I don’t think that this year reflects that something is going wrong,” said Price. “Some [years] are more and some [years] are less. It’s a hard program to be in. It’s a two-year commitment; you sit and learn all day. It’s not a small thing.”

“It 100% not only matched my expectations but superseded them,” said Zahava Schwartz, a second year GPATS student and graduate of the Sy Syms School of Business. “I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was going to be a very demanding program, but I didn’t realize quite how much I missed and yearned for just sitting all day and pushing through difficult texts. Once I started the program, I really began to wonder how I expected to go through my life without doing it.

“I feel it is providing an important service and a very important need in the Jewish community,” said Kahn. “In Israel, there are places for women to pursue advanced learning and Torah, and, in, America there aren’t, certainly within the Orthodox camp. The only place really is GPATS, so I feel very strongly about it, and I feel very happy that YU is supporting it. I think that this is something that is desperately needed, and we are filling a very important need.”

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Photo Caption: GPATS

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University