Growing up in the Soviet Union, Yigal Kotler didn't have the opportunity for any formal Jewish study, much less for travel to Israel. "Any forms of Jewish education were strictly forbidden in the time of my childhood," says Yigal. But between the end of the Soviet era and the beginning of his doctoral studies at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Yigal accomplished great things in Jewish leadership, scholarship, and education, including founding the first Jewish school and other community institutions in his hometown of Odessa, Ukraine; studying in the Jerusalem Fellows program of the Mandel Center of Jewish Leadership in Israel; and publishing his book, Essays on the History of Odessa Jews, also in Jerusalem. Before undertaking his doctoral program at JTS, Yigal had presented at various conferences on Jewish education, Jewish history, and academic Judaica in the Former Soviet Union, Israel, Europe, and the U.S. and worked at teaching, lecturing, and curriculum development.
Here in New York, he is focused on more than the EdD he plans to complete in 2014 with the support of a special William Davidson Fellowship. Yigal's dissertation is concentrated on the density, leadership, and education of the Russian-speaking Jewish community of North America, a community into which he has unique insight from his background, learning, and experience in developing programs at the Shorefront YM-YWHA, which serves Brooklyn's Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach neighborhoods, home to a large Russian-speaking Jewish community. Yigal also coordinates the Russian project at the Institute of Jewish Learning, JTS's adult education program, and is active in other efforts as a local lay leader.
Yigal came to JTS and The Davidson School for the opportunity to study "at the institution of the highest reputation under the supervision of the world-leading experts in the field of Jewish education and Judaic studies." It's the journey of a lifetime from a world where he couldn't have enrolled in a single Jewish class. Yigal's work and learning at JTS are now placing him firmly on the path of advanced Jewish education and service to his community and ours.