WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY
Janet Alperstein: Leading the Way in International Education
Women can indeed empower other women, especially if role models run in the family. For Dr. Janet F. Alperstein, director of academic affairs at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that means following nature and nurture. Her mother, Sara, is retired from a career in childhood education, and her grandmother, Ruth Suberski Goldenheim, at the age of 96 and a half, has the distinction of being Barnard College’s oldest alum and was chosen to lead the procession for the installation of Barnard’s new president, Debra Spar. A graduate of Barnard (class of ‘92), with a major in economics, Dr. Alperstein earned a master’s in higher education and then, at Columbia University, a Ph.D. in sociology.
Though 94 years separate Ruth Goldenheim from Dr. Alperstein’s adopted 2-year-old son, Max, there has already developed a “special connection” between them. Dr. Alperstein notes that recently, when she led a group of academic advisors on a tour of Jerusalem, she brought along young Max when the group visited the Wall in the old Jewish Quarter, and shortly after that he was exclaiming “Maxie at the Wall.” For Ruth Goldenheim, these words from her Guatemalan-born great-grandson could not, one imagines, have been sweeter. Fluent in Spanish, an ardent Zionist and a world traveler — she was in Spain during their Civil War — and a woman who always had a passionate interest in cultural fare (a “foodie,” her granddaughter proudly points out, “long before the word was popular”), Ruth Goldenheim must surely have warmed to Max’s expressed fondness for Israeli pizza. Of course, he will have to wait a bit for another on-site tasting experience since Dr. Alperstein basically pursues her work on behalf of Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the Rothberg School office at 1 Battery Park Plaza.
Named for philanthropist Samuel Rothberg (d. 2007), a lifelong supporter of Israel and the founder of Hebrew University’s overseas program, the Rothberg International School, a division of the university in Jerusalem, is part of a consortium of five Israeli universities. “An international arena, a magnet,” as its Web site declares, it attracts students from over 70 countries around the world who study in English. It also offers seven M.A. degree programs — and in an environment that is safe and secure, Dr. Alperstein pointedly remarks. Regardless how long students stay at Rothberg — a summer, a semester, a year — she feels they gain a wider “perspective” on Israel and a more fully nuanced appreciation of complexities that sometimes escape or go unreported by the media — the fact, for example, that Arabic can be studied there. Students consistently report that their experience at Rothberg has been “the most exciting time of their life.” Until you live somewhere, Dr. Alperstein says, “you really don’t know a place.” And what better place to want to know than Jerusalem, the confluence of three of the world’s major religions.
Though at the helm as director of Rothberg for only three and a half years, Dr. Alperstein, who previously was dean for the study abroad program at Barnard, has already made a mark on programs affecting the school’s 2,200 students, half of whom are American. In particular, she has introduced online enhancements that put Rothberg right on Google’s front pages and connect the school with Facebook. Programmatic changes include collaboration with Harvard on Spring in Jerusalem, which has just begun. Other initiatives involve a joint program with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, of special importance to dance majors, who before this had few study abroad options. As for Rothberg’s M.A. graduates in general, they typically go on to Ph.D. programs in Israel or the Diaspora and tend to work for nonprofits and NGOs.
According to a FAQ on its Web site, it costs approximately $22,000 to study at Rothberg for a year (costs include tuition, room, and living expenses, including food and local travel expenses). For details, readers should check out the Web site or call (212) 607-8520. #