‘The Privilege of a Lifetime’: Dr. Erica Brown Has Big Plans for the Sacks-Herenstein Center
Over the summer, Dr. Erica Brown was invited by President Ari Berman to direct the Sacks-Herenstein Center. The Sacks Center was founded in Oct. 2021 to spread Rabbi Sacks’ teachings and values through education and opportunities including seminars, literary initiatives, and academic courses. Rabbi Sacks, who passed away in 2020, embodied YU’s mission, leaving a legacy of Jewish education and empowerment. The new center, powered by his teachings, will be dedicated to both transmitting values and educating next generations’ leaders,” stated President Berman.
“Losing my teacher, Rabbi Sacks, was very painful, and this center seemed to be the perfect opportunity to honor him and his teachings and make sure that they live on at Yeshiva. It's the privilege of a lifetime,” said Brown. However, the privilege of having Brown lead a YU institute so crucial to the future of Jewish education and prosperity is all ours. This became apparent to me upon asking Brown some questions about herself and her background.
Brown has an impressive background in academia and education. She previously served as the director of The Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership and was an associate professor of curriculum and pedagogy at George Washington University. She also served as a scholar-in-residence and as a community scholar in multiple communities in America. An alumnus of Yeshiva University herself, she went on to receive degrees from the University of London, Harvard University and Baltimore Hebrew University, and received many awards and fellowships for her work in education. “I only have three skill sets: I teach, I write and I read,” she told me. “YU is a great space to use those skills and develop them. More than a teacher, I am always a student and am already learning so much being here. And it's only been a month.”
Brown is excited to have joined the YU staff: “I love teaching and am thrilled to work with students, get to know the faculty, create leadership cohort groups and watch people grow to reach their potential.” She will be a key player in promoting many important core values at YU, including the Five Torot, as she mentors students and develops education and leadership initiatives based on Rabbi Sacks’ teachings.
Brown believes the complex issues raised by Centrist Orthodoxy are what need to be discussed. However, regarding conversations about the importance of her position as a female and her hopes of inspiring future female leaders, she said she’d rather focus on discussing the Five Torot and their demands. Brown stated that she “thinks about learning and leadership in largely non-gendered terms. Often I'm asked in interviews and panels to reflect exclusively on being a female when what I want to do is think out-loud about Jewish texts, Jewish ideas and Jewish leadership. When you have something serious to say and to contribute, people listen and respond, no matter your genetic makeup. I find that focus tends generally to diminish women's voices rather than enhance them.”
These discussions and values are crucial in the changing field of higher education. Today, universities can be an “ideologically hazardous place,” says Brown, becoming a “minefield of identity politics that can be very hard to negotiate and can be an enormous distraction to learning.” While important, this tends to “eclipse the central role of the university as a place for the dissemination and production of ideas in a spirit of curiosity and exploration.” She hopes that students appreciate the safe, nurturing environment at YU to pursue their education and explore new ideas.
We look forward to benefiting from Brown’s expertise as she takes on her new role. The community as a whole is sure to grow from her leadership and help in promoting our core values. Thanks to Brown and the Sacks Center, we can ensure Rabbi Sacks’ legacy lives on at YU.
Photo Caption: Dr. Erica Brown
Photo Credit: The Jewish Link