2017 Season Speaker Biographies

Week 1: Dr. Gary Zola

Dr. Gary Zola

Dr. Gary Zola is the Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives) and Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati. He received both his rabbinic ordination and his Ph.D. in American Jewish History from HUC-JIR.

Professor Zola is a historian of American Jewry specializing in the development of American Reform Judaism. He has published numerous volumes including his most recent: We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry.

In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Zola as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent agency of the Federal government. Previously, Dr. Zola served as the organizer and chair of the congressionally recognized Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History,


Week 2: Judge Steven Leifman

Judge Steven Leifman

Steven Leifman is an associate administrative judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. He is well known for his efforts to keep mentally ill individuals out of prisons and jails. In 2000, he started the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project that aims to divert mentally ill people who might otherwise end up in the criminal justice system into treatment centers. He served as Special Advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health for the Supreme Court of Florida from 2007 - 2010. He chaired the Court’s Mental Health Subcommittee that authored Transforming Florida’s Mental Health System – a report with recommendations to decrease the inappropriate involvement of people with mental illnesses in the justice system. Currently, Judge Leifman chairs the Florida Supreme Court’s Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court.

He has received numerous awards including the 2015 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence presented to him by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. He was the first recipient to receive the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence in 2015.

Judge Leifman has been featured in many national and local television and radio programs. He has also authored and published numerous articles and book chapters on mental illnesses and the criminal justice system.


Week 3: Abigail Pogrebin

Abigail Pogrebin

Abigail Pogrebin is  an author of several books.  Her latest book is My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays; One Wondering Jew, that came out of her popular column for The Forward and that chronicles her experience researching and observing every holiday in the Jewish calendar.

Pogrebin is also the author of Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk about Being Jewish, for which she interviewed everyone from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Steven Spielberg about Jewish identity-- a book that was featured on Charlie Rose and "Good Morning America," and was adapted for the Off-Broadway stage, produced by Tony winner Daryl Roth. Pogrebin's second book, One and the Same, delved into every aspect of growing up as a twin, including the author’s personal experience as an identical double.

Pogrebin was formerly a broadcast producer for Fred Friendly, Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers at PBS, then for Ed Bradley and Mike Wallace at 60 Minutes. She has been published in many magazines and newspapers including NewsweekNew York Magazine, The ForwardTablet, and The Daily Beast. She moderates her own interview series at The JCC in Manhattan called “What Everyone’s Talking About,” where her guests have included Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Brokaw, Nora Ephron, Nicholas Kristof and Mario Batali. Pogrebin lives in Manhattan and is currently the President of Central Synagogue.


Week 4: Dr. Bernard Avishai and Sidra Dekoven Ezrahi

Dr. Bernard Avishai

Dr. Bernard Avishai teaches political economy at Dartmouth College and the Hebrew University.  He writes regular commentaries for The New Yorker, and has written longer essays for most major magazines, including Harper’s, The New York Review, and The New York Times Magazine.  A Guggenheim fellow, he is the author of four books, including The Tragedy of Zionism and Promiscuous.  He is also a former editor of the Harvard Business Review and International Director of Intellectual Capital at KPMG.

Dr. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi

Dr. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi is Professor Emerita of Comparative Jewish Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has been visiting professor at Duke, Princeton, Yale, Michigan and Dartmouth. She is the author of By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature (1980), which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and Booking Passage: Exile and Homecoming in the Modern Jewish Imagination (2000), which was a finalist for the Koret Jewish Book Award. Her work ranges from explorations of literary and cultural representations of the Holocaust to studies of the Jewish configurations of exile and homecoming. Ezrahi has been a featured speaker at the Chicago Humanities Festival (November, 2005) and the Jewish Arts Festival in New York (September, 2006). In 2007 she was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for her project on “Jerusalem and the Poetics of Return.”


Week 5: Sheldon Seligsohn

Sheldon Seligsohn

Sheldon Seligsohn has been a teacher/ lecturer for more than 30 years. He has taught at Chautauqua Institution, Temple Law School, Arcadia University, where he received the  “Educator of the Year Award,” and Pennsylvania State University. He is also a lecturer for Road Scholar.  Sheldon is a graduate of the Warton School of The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University School of Law.


Week 6: Dayle Friedman

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman is a pioneer in the development of a Jewish spiritual vision for aging, spiritual care and healing. She was the founding director of Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which provided education, spiritual resources, and scholarship for elders and their caregivers.

She offers spiritual direction, classes, training and consulting through Growing Older, her Philadelphia-based, national practice.
Rabbi Friedman was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1985.  From 1985 until 1997 she was the founding director of chaplaincy services at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center.

 Rabbi Friedman has written several book including: Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife; Jewish Visions for Aging: A Professional Guide for Fostering Wholeness, with Eugene B. Borowitz and Thomas R. Cole; and Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources


Week 7: Ilan Goldenberg

Ilan Goldenberg

Ilan Goldenberg is Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He has foreign policy and defense expertise related to Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the broader challenges facing the Middle East. Prior to CNAS, Mr. Goldenberg served as the Chief of Staff to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations at the U.S. Department of State.  In that position, he has played a key leadership role with the small team supporting Secretary Kerry’s initiative to conduct permanent status peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

From 2012 to 2013, Mr. Goldenberg served as a Senior Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee covering Middle East issues for Chairmen Kerry and Menendez. In that capacity, he acted as one of the lead drafters of the Syria Transition Support Act which provided additional authorities to arm the Syrian opposition. The bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2013.
From 2009 to 2012, Mr. Goldenberg served first as a Special Advisor on the Middle East and then as the Iran Team Chief in the Office of the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. In that position he provided advice and support to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and other senior DOD officials on Iranian nuclear, military, and political issues.

Prior to that, Mr. Goldenberg worked as Policy Director and was one of the founding staff members of the National Security Network – a progressive nonprofit foreign policy organization dedicated to a pragmatic and principled foreign policy.  He also spent time early in his career as a financial analyst at CitiGroup Investment Banking where he covered the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Goldenberg is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
Mr. Goldenberg holds a B.A. in international studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of Business, and a master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.


Week 8 Francine Klagsbrun

Francine Klagsbrun

Francine Klagsbrun, is a writer, editor and columnist. She is the author of more than a dozen books and countless articles in national publications. She edited The First Ms. Reader (1973) and Free to Be ... You and Me (1974). Some of her books include Too Young to Die—Youth and Suicide (1976), Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce (1985), and Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture Around the Year (1996).  Her latest book is a biography of Golda Meir.

Klagsbrun has devoted her energy to a number of organizations.  She has served as chairwoman of the Board of Overseers of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library, secretary of the board of trustees of the Jewish Museum and co-chair of its exhibitions committee. She has been a member of the Publication Committee of the Jewish Publication Society of America, the Professional Advisory Board of the Petschek National Jewish Family Center of the American Jewish Committee and the Artistic Advisory Committee of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and remains a member of the Commission on Equality for Women of the American Jewish Congress, the Women’s Dialogue group of the American Jewish Committee, and the Board of Directors of the National Jewish Book Council. She is also on the Board of Directors of Lilith and on the Editorial Board of Hadassah magazine

She was also involved in the founding of Women of the Wall (WOW). In 1988, at the First International Jewish Feminist Conference in Jerusalem, an inter-denominational group of women organized a prayer service at the Kotel, and chose Klagsbrun to carry the Torah at the head of the group, the first woman to carry a Torah to the Western Wall. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College, a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a master's degree in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts.


Week 9: Stephen M. Silverman

Stephen M. Silverman

Stephen M. Silverman is the author of a dozen books, including The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America; Funny Ladies: The Great Comediennes of the 20th Century; and the critically acclaimed biographies of the filmmakers David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) and Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), featuring introductions by Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn, respectively. As a journalist he is a 20-year veteran of Time Inc., and his work has appeared in Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Times of London, Smithsonian, Vogue, and The Washington Post. For nine years he was an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York City.