2019 Season Speaker Biographies

Week One

Benjamin Carter Hett Benjamin Carter Hett is Professor of History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. With a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of Toronto, Dr. Hett is considered an expert in central European history, and is the author of 4 books - The Death of Democracy, Burning the Reichstag, Crossing Hitler, and Death in the Tiergarten. Hett was born in Rochester, New York, grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and now lives in New York City.

June 24 - “The Beginning of the Reckoning:” Democracies Confront Fascism, 1933-1941.

June 25 - “Making Democracy Safe for the World:” The Revival of Democracy, 1941-1955.




Week Two

Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, MDKenneth Paul Rosenberg, MD is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Dr. Rosenberg is a member of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has been listed every year for the past 17 years as a Top Addiction Psychiatrist in New York Magazine’s “Best Doctors" issue, and is listed as a Top Doctor in U.S. News and World Report. He has produced films for PBS and HBO to educate the public about medicine and psychiatry, for which he received a George Foster Peabody Award and was recognized by both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

July 1 - Bedlam: Mental Illness - the National Health Crisis — (Part 1) Living in the Emergency Room.

July 2 - Bedlam: Mental Illness - the National Health Crisis - (Part 2) Crises in the LA Jail.


Week Three

Jeremy Ben-AmiJeremy Ben-Ami is the President of J Street, a political advocacy organization promoting policies that advance shared US and Israeli interests and Jewish and democratic values. Ben-Ami has been profiled and published in The New York Times and Washington Post. His writing also appeared in the LATimes, New Republic, Politico, The Guardian and many other news outlets. Ben-Ami has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the Colbert Report, and consults regularly on foreign policy, national security and the US-Israel relationship. He was an adviser to President Bill Clinton, was Howard Dean’s National Policy Director, and worked on numerous Presidential, state and local political campaigns. Ben-Ami received a law degree from New York University and is a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Relations at Princeton University.

July 8 - The Growing Threat to Pro-Israel Centrism

Part 1: Look Right - The implications of ever-tightening bonds between Netanyahu, Trump, and ethno-nationalists globally.

July 9 - The Growing Threat to Pro-Israel Centrism

Part 2: Look Left - The implications of growing progressive criticism of Israel and its policies and the end of unquestioning bipartisan support for Israel.

Week Four

Rabbi Shira Stutman Rabbi Shira Stutman is Senior Rabbi at Washington, DC’s innovative Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Named one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Forward, she and her colleagues strive to create a spiritually connected, reflective, intellectually challenging and engaging Jewish community for the area’s large millennial population. Rabbi Stutman also teaches for the Wexner Heritage program and at Jewish Federations across the US. She is Board Chair of Jews United for Justice, and speaks nationally on post-tribal religion in America, supporting interfaith couples, and building a welcoming and diverse Jewish community. Rabbi Stutman graduated from Columbia University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where she was a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

July 15 - Stand Your Ground. Share Your Space?

July 16 - Universalism and Particularism in 21st-Century Religious Life.


Week Five

Rabbi Jonah PesnerRabbi Jonah Pesner is the Director of the Religious Action Center (The RAC) of Reform Judaism, and also serves as Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, Rabbi Pesner encourages Jewish communities to reach across lines of race, class, and faith in campaigns for social justice. Rabbi Pesner was a primary leader in the successful Massachusetts campaign for health care access which became a nationwide model for reform. He has led campaigns for racial justice, economic opportunity, immigration reform, LGBTQ equality, human rights, and against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate and bigotry. Rabbi Pesner is on the board of the NAACP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, among others. A graduate of Weslyan University and ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Pesner served as congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston and at Temple Israel in Westport, CT.

July 22 - Prophetic Power & Politics: How the Jewish Community Can Create a More Just World.

July 23 - The Ancient and Timeless Legend of the Exodus: Lessons for our own Lives.


Week Six

Angela Himsel Angela Himsel is a freelance writer based in New York City, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Jewish Week, the Forward, Lilith Magazine, BOMB Magazine and several other outlets. Her weekly column “Angetevka” on Zeek.net examined her life as an observant Jew on Manhattan’s Upper West Side against the backdrop of her fundamentalist Christian upbringing in Jasper, Indiana. For this body of work, Himsel received the American Jewish Press Association’s Rockower Award for Excellence in Commentary. She holds a BA in religious studies from Indiana University, which included a two-year stint studying at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and also has an MFA in creative writing from The City College of New York.

July 29 - The Long Road from Jesus to Judaism: Facing Doubt, Arriving at Love.

July 30 - Who Are You? The Thorny Question of Identity.




Week Seven

Rabbi Laura GellerRabbi Laura Geller was twice named one of Newsweek’s “50 Most Influential Rabbis in America,” and Nextavenue.com named her one of the “50 Influencers in Aging” in 2017.  Rabbi Geller was the first woman to be named Senior Rabbi of a major congregation, and upon her ordination by Hebrew Union College in 1976, was only the third woman to become a Reform rabbi. She is the author of numerous articles in books and journals, served on the editorial board of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and is a Fellow of the Corporation of Brown University from where she graduated in 1971, A founder of the first synagogue-based village, Chai Village LA, she is the author, with her late husband Richard Siegel, of Getting Good at Getting Older: A Jewish Catalog for a New Age, which will be published by Behrman House in fall of 2019.

August 5 - Wise Aging: Acquiring a Heart of Wisdom.

August 6 - From Equality to Transformation: How Jewish Feminism Changed the World.


Week Eight

Jonathan D. PollackJonathan D. Pollack is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. Prior to joining Brookings, he was a Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, serving as Chairman of their Strategic Research Department and Director of Asia-Pacific Studies. Dr. Pollack earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University. His work of 22 years at The Rand Corporation included numerous research and management positions. He has published extensively on international relations of the Asia-Pacific region and appears frequently on TV in the US and abroad. Dr. Pollack is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His study on the origins and evolution of North Korea’s nuclear identity, No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and International Security was published in 2011 by Routledge; his latest book, Endangered Order: Leadership, Identity and Strategic Risk in Northeast Asia, will be published by the Brookings Institution Press in 2019.

August 12 - North Korea: America’s Eternal Adversary?

August 13 - The United States and a Rising China: How Should America and the World Respond?


Week Nine

Ruth MessingerRuth Messinger was from 1998 to 2016 the CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international human rights and development organization dedicated to promoting social justice in the developing world. She currently serves as its Global Ambassador, working to engage rabbis and international interfaith leaders to work against poverty and oppression. Messinger also works to advance social justice activism in the Jewish community in her current roles as the Finkelstein Institute Social Justice Fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and as the Social Justice Activist at the new Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility at the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center. Ruth has served on the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and the World Bank’s Moral Imperative Task Force to End Extreme Poverty. She sits on several boards including the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Hazon. Messinger is a graduate of Radcliffe College and the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work.

August 19 - The Jewish Commitment to Social Justice.

August 20 - Our History as a Nation of Immigrants.