US Air Force judge advocate Rena Winick Weinstein wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her life when she graduated high school.
As an Orthodox Jew, Weinstein was certain of one thing: She wanted to go to college in a place that would support her religious lifestyle — and help her find her professional path. So she enrolled at the Lander College for Women, a part of the Touro University System, designed to help observant Jews get an education without compromising their religious values.
Weinstein, now 25, ended up finding the spark for her unconventional career at Touro: She became interested in national security after taking a college counterterrorism course. She dabbled in a variety of pursuits after graduating, including selling real estate and learning Arabic, before deciding to study law at Georgetown University. She eventually landed a job in the US Air Force as an attorney known as a JAG, or judge advocate general.
“It was very helpful for me, now that I’m in an environment where there’s very little religion, to have that foundation of strong academics and a strong religious environment while in college,” Weinstein said, reflecting on her experience. “That was the cushion that allowed me to branch off into the secular world.”
These days Weinstein, who recently married, works at a fighter jet base in England, where she’s chief of international and operational law, dealing with issues ranging from NATO readiness to military court martials.
“I’ve always been patriotic, so I felt it was important to show appreciation for the gifts we’ve received as Jews in America by joining the military,” said Weinstein, who previously spent a year and a half at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas with the 22 nd Air Refueling Wing. “I wanted to do more than sitting around at a think tank, talking about patriotism and values.”
Founded in 1971 to provide an environment where Orthodox Jews in New York could get a college education without foregoing their religious commitments, Touro is now a sprawling university system with over 19,000 students from many faith traditions spanning 35 different schools and spread out over four countries.
Yet Touro remains a place that not only accommodates Orthodox Jewish observance but embraces it. Classes are suspended on Jewish holidays, every campus offers kosher food and other special features are available, such as Sabbath-observant residency programs for medical students.
“Throughout its 52-year history, Touro has been committed to making sure students succeed at the highest level professionally while upholding their Jewish values,” said Touro’s president, Dr. Alan Kadish, who has led Touro for the last 14 years, following the tenure of founding president Bernard Lander. “Working to create a better world and society is part of our mission.”
A variety of Touro alumni now working in high-powered fields said that going to a school that cultivated their professional skills and supported their religiosity gave them the early-career nurturing they needed to succeed as Orthodox Jews in the professional world.
Regina Davydova, who was born in Uzbekistan and immigrated to New York when she was 8, became interested in pursuing a career in medicine when she was a teenager. But as an Orthodox Jew, Davydova worried about how she would balance a demanding career with her religious observance and desire to raise a family.
She enrolled in the physician’s assistant program at Touro’s School of Health Sciences, which she said help set her up for success: She got a job at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center following graduation, only two weeks after getting married. Sixteen years on, Davydova, now 38, is the chief PA of the hospital’s plastic surgery division — and has a thriving Orthodox family.
“It’s incredible how we can rearrange skin and tissue to reconstruct any defects, and make the patient feel and look whole again,” Davydova said of her job. “It’s not just aesthetics, like most people think. We also do a lot of reconstruction in breast cancer or head and neck cancers.”
Like Davydova, Jason Appleson also chose a college based in large part on where he’d feel comfortable as an Orthodox Jew. At Touro’s Lander College for Men, the dual curriculum allows both for yeshiva study and obtaining professional and academic degrees.
“I liked the yeshiva-style program at Lander, the close-knit learning and the small size of the school,” said Appleson, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in finance.
“When it came to looking for jobs, I got a lot of attention,” he added. “At Lander, it was more about, ‘Let’s connect you with real people.’ Ultimately, that’s how I got my first job at Alliance Bernstein, through networking.”
After a stint at Alliance Bernstein, Appleson joined the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, followed by nine years at Chicago-based PT Asset Management. Now 38 and married with three children, Appleson is a managing director at Prudential Global Investment Management in Newark, New Jersey, where he leads the municipal bond team.
He credits his education at Lander College not just with giving him the skills he needed to succeed, but also the supportive religious environment he needed to thrive.
“One of the most difficult things if you go to a non-Jewish school is that no one’s working around your schedule,” said Appleson, a native of Nashville. “At Lander, you can celebrate Jewish holidays comfortably. Religion is not just a culture, it’s a lifestyle. I didn’t have to worry about kashrut or Shabbat.”
Touro’s president said Shabbat observance isn’t a disadvantage, but an asset both in school and in professional life.
“By and large, people can succeed as observant Jews in almost any area, but the problem of time management is mitigated by the restorative effects of Shabbos and holidays,” Kadish said. “It does mean that in certain professions you might be working on Sundays when you otherwise might not be. But I firmly believe the reset really helps.”
Florida native Israel Ackerman went to the Lander College for Men, availing himself of the night classes and flexible schedule so he could complete the rigorous pre-med science program while spending his mornings studying in yeshiva. Then he went to Touro’s medical school, New York Medical College, in Valhalla, New York.
“Specifically in the field of medicine, it can be a struggle to find institutions where you can observe Shabbat and Jewish holidays during busy hospital rotations,” Ackerman said.
After graduating, he did his fellowship in ophthalmology at the University of Texas-Southwestern and now works in Dallas as an eye surgeon.
Moshe Serwatien, a student at New York Medical College who did his undergraduate studies at Lander, said the intensity at Lander both of the pre-med academics and his own yeshiva studies prepared him well for the demands of medical school. Faculty at Touro also helped him with the medical school application process.
“My rabbis at Lander held me to a very high level of academic excellence and intellectual standards, so I was quite prepared for the rigors of medical school,” Serwatien said.
Ultimately, many alumni say, the seeds for their professional success were planted at Touro.
“My time at Lander,” said Appleson, the bond manager, “prepared me to work with some of the best and brightest in the industry.”
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Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
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Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
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Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
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