Ƶ Launches Inaugural Public Fellows Program for 2024

The University’s one-year fellowship will empower Jewish scholars to spread their innovative work to the broader public. 

Los Angeles, CA — Today, Ƶ (AJU) announced its new Public Fellows program, enabling Jewish scholars to widen their academic scopes and publicize their work. The fellows will be affiliated with AJU for the year 2024, during which time they will give a public lecture somewhere in the United States, on a Jewish topic of their choosing, and will interact with the AJU community of scholars, students, alumni, and friends. The inaugural group of six fellows are:  

  • William Deresiewicz: Acclaimed essayist, speaker, and former professor; known for his book “Excellent Sheep” ; recipient of awards like the Hiett Prize; prolific writer featured in top publications; author of multiple books; advocate for purpose-based learning and social justice through involvement with organizations like Tivnu and Project Wayfinder. Resides in Oregon. 

  • Roya Hakakian: Writer and activist known for poetry, essays in leading publications like The Atlantic and The New York Review of Books; advocate for human rights and minorities in the Middle East; founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center; author of acclaimed memoir ”Journey from the Land of No" and "Assassins of the Turquoise Palace"; recipient of the Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction; latest book "A Beginner’s Guide to America for the Immigrant and the Curious," published in 2021. Resides in Connecticut. 

  • Sarah Hurwitz: Author of "Here All Along," a book on rediscovering Judaism; former White House speechwriter for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, previously for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign; Resides in Washington, D.C. 

  • Jay Michaelson: Author of forthcoming fiction collection “The Secret that Is Not a Secret,” as well as diverse books on Judaism and spirituality, including "Everything is God" and "God vs. Gay?"; recipient of the 2022 National Jewish Book Award for "The Heresy of Jacob Frank"; holds a Ph.D. in Jewish thought, J.D., and rabbinic ordination; published scholarly work on Jewish mysticism and taught at institutions like Harvard Divinity School; journalist, commentator on CNN, and contributor to publications like Rolling Stone and The Daily Beast; active in meditation as program director at New York Insight Meditation Center; LGBTQ activist; resides in greater New York. 

  • Letty Cottin Pogrebin: Renowned writer, activist, and lecturer, co-founder of Ms. magazine; author of 12 books including "Deborah, Golda, and Me" and "Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy"; influential articles in The New York Times, The Nation, and others; co-founder of key women's organizations like the Ms. Foundation for Women; served on boards for women's studies programs at Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School; recipient of numerous awards including a Matrix Award and an Emmy for her work on "Free to Be You and Me"; resides in New York City and Stockbridge, Massachusetts with her husband, with whom she has three children and six grandchildren. 

  • Anthony Russell: Vocalist, composer, and arranger specializing in Yiddish music; explored African American music, resulting in the EP "Convergence"; formed duo Tsvey Brider for original music with Yiddish poetry; released "Kosmopolitn" featuring 20th-century Yiddish poetry; engaged in cultural activism with the Workers Circle; contributed essays to publications like The Forward and Tablet; Hadar Rising Song Fellow and Mandel Institute Cultural Leadership Fellow; resides in Atlanta with husband Rabbi Michael Rothbaum. 

The fellows were selected by Mark Oppenheimer, AJU’s director of open learning, in conjunction with AJU’s president, Jeffrey Herbst, for their involvement in Jewish ethics and outstanding scholarly work. 

“It just seemed to me that a Jewish center as dynamic as Ƶ would be a great part-time intellectual home for this amazing, diverse, eccentric band of wonderfully weird Jewish thinkers,” says Oppenheimer. “AJU has this history of being at the frontier—literally and figuratively—of American Jewish life, and so do these six fellows.” 

“I'm honored to be in the inaugural class of AJU's public fellows,” said Jay Michaelson, who holds a PhD from Hebrew University and a JD from Yale Law School. “This program is a vital and useful bridge between the academy and American Jewish scholars doing important work beyond its walls.” 

As part of the program, each fellow will receive a grant to further their work. The scholars will give at least one public talk in their respective local communities and will take part in an AJU-sponsored public forum, such as AJU’s new podcast The Syllabus – which centers on politics on American college campuses – or AJU’s Open Learning platform, which hosts thought-provoking conversations with faculty and friends. Each fellow may also hold an online masterclass or discussion for AJU students and may be featured in additional online video content available to all. “Any one of them may contribute to the AJU community in some way that has yet to be imagined!” Oppenheimer said. “Let’s see what 2024, or 5784-5785, holds!” 

“I look forward to my time as an AJU Public Fellow as an opportunity to explore the possibilities of Jewish creative expression not merely as a site of communal experience, but also one of communal thinking, solidarity-building, and action,” said Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, an Atlanta-based multidisciplinary artist and scholar specializing in Yiddish culture.  

To learn more about each public fellow, visit .  

About AJU: Ƶ (AJU) is a thriving center of Jewish resources and talent that serves the Jewish community of the twenty-first century. A portal for Jewish belonging, AJU equips students, faculty, campers, and learners of all ages with the tools to create the ideas, build the structures, and develop the programs to advance Jewish wisdom and elevate Jewish living. For more information, visit .  


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