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Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke

Alumni Spotlight - Dr. Amy Wechsler, T'91

Dermatologist & author of The Mind-Beauty Connection

Where are you from originally? What made you decide to attend Duke?
I am from Queens, NY and Rockland County, NY.  I decide to attend Duke for a number of reasons - I already knew that I wanted to go to medical school and I knew Duke had a strong pre-med program and a first-class hospital; I wanted to leave my comfort zone of the Northeast and try someplace new; I visited Duke with my family and fell in love with the school and the environment; I love college basketball; - the list goes on and on!
If you had to describe your Duke experience briefly, what would you say about it?
I loved every minute of my time at Duke.  I was struck by the fact that no one on the faculty said no to me - if I was interested in pursuing an activity, there was always someone who was willing to help me turn my interests into reality.  I had a great mix of academics and extracurricular activities and social time.  I made life-long friends, had inspiring professors, and did unique things like spending a lot of time at the Lemur Center.  

You graduated before the Freeman Center was built. Were you active in Jewish life on campus when you were a student? What groups or activities were you involved with as a student?
I was active around holidays - services were in the Chapel and my mom encouraged me to attend.  I was in a sorority (Kappa Alpha Theta), I babysat for faculty members, I volunteered at Duke hospital (most notably in a pediatric AIDS clinic) and at the Lemur Center, I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon starting in my sophomore year (I was actually in the operating room), I was a Big Sister to a young boy in Durham, and I played on the Club Volleyball team.

Talk about your career and life now.
I have a private practice in NYC - I own my office and I set my own schedule, which is great because I am a single mom of 2 awesome kids.  I work hard, I feel privileged to take care of people for a living, and I plan my schedule around my kids' events and activities.  I also consult with Chanel on their skin care products.

You are one of only two dermatologists in the country who is board certified in both dermatology and psychiatry.  How did you decide to focus on psychology AND dermatology? And how do the two disciplines relate to each other in your daily practice? 
I first became a psychiatrist (and child psychiatrist), but in practicing psychiatry I missed taking care of the physical ailments of my patients.  It took me a few months to figure out which specialty I wanted to combine with psychiatry, but when I discovered dermatology it made perfect sense to me.  The mind and skin have myriad connections and affect each other in innumerable ways.  I spend a lot of time with my patients and I look at them holistically, since what's going on in their lives can impact their skin and vice versa.  

You published a book, The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin. You’ve been on TV programs such as the Dr. Oz Show, and featured in many publications such as The New York Times and O Magazine.  What has been the most exciting experience so far in your career? 
I don't have just one "most exciting" experience... in the office I love clearing up severe acne and watching each of those patients blossom as their self-esteem and confidence improves; I loved being on Tyra [Banks] for the first time because that was my first national TV appearance; I loved publishing my book because I worked hard on it and was proud of it; I love working with Chanel because it's a company of extraordinary people who do incredible work; I love finding skin cancers in their early stage; I loved being in the NY Times the first time because I am a New Yorker and my grandpa read it from cover to cover every day. 

Passover is coming up. What traditional Passover foods are worst for your skin? Which ones are best?
There are no Passover foods that are necessarily bad for skin!  Foods high in antioxidants are good for the skin - dark chocolate covered matzah is my favorite and dark chocolate has antioxidants in it - just eat it in moderation!

Any advice for us stress-prone Dukies?
Try hard to get enough sleep!  We heal and lay down new memory during sleep.  Without enough sleep, most people become irritable, cannot deal with stressors as well, don't perform as well on exams, and get sick much more easily.  I never pulled an all-nighter at Duke because I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate well the next day.  It's important to have a good balance of work and leisure time.  Take care of yourself - connect with friends, take a walk outside, exercise, wear sunscreen, and don't smoke!


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Happy (almost) Passover! In honor of the Passover tradition, we’re tacking on a fifth question: what makes JLD’s Passover so special?

Well for starters, Jewish Life at Duke will be offering free Seders at the Freeman Center on both the first and second night of Passover. Many students who are looking for a traditional Passover experience attend these Seders with the larger Duke community. Throughout the holiday, the Duke community can go to the Freeman Center for kosher-for-Passover meals. Other locations on campus have kosher- for-Passover dining options for those Dukies who can’t make it over to Freeman during the week.

But for students who might want to embrace the holiday in their own way, JLD offers the opportunity to host their own Passover Seders. Providing funding, food, haggadahs, supplies, and training, JLD prepares students to bring the Passover tradition to their own campus homes. In recent years, over 650 students took part in at least 17 Seders on campus!

Students get super creative, hosting Seders with themes such as a ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Freedom’, or ‘Rainbow (LBTQ)’. Students sometimes even cook their Passover dinners from scratch in their dorm kitchens; the commitment it takes to make tzimmes over a communal hot plate is impressive!

Other students join with their friends, sororities and selective living groups to have a small Seder within their own Duke families. The past couple of years, I myself co-hosted Seders for my sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. We picked food up from Freeman, then brought it back to Central Campus where we all set up together in the dorm. Having my sisters gathered around the common room, celebrating the holiday with me, quelled any homesickness I might get around the holidays because I realized: I was home!

The first time I decided that I wanted to help lead a Seder, I was nervous – what if I got the prayers wrong? What if I told guests to eat the Charoset before they dipped the Karpas in salt water? Luckily, Jewish Life at Duke helped me to feel comfortable and competent. We upheld many of the traditions and parts of the Seder I grew up doing, from pouring a glass for Elijah to searching for the afikomen. It was also an awesome way for the non-Jewish members to experience a Seder. It may not have been a flawless Seder, but everyone was together in celebration and made it all work.


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Alumni Spotlight Meet the Freemans

The Freeman siblings then (at Heath's Bar Mitzvah) and now
The Freeman Center for Jewish Life is the hub of Jewish life at Duke University. The Freeman Family Program Fund is generously underwriting this year’s Bar Mitzvah Program. Get to know the fund's founders, Danyelle (T’96), Amanda (T’98), and Heath (T’02), as they sit down with Tori Cohen (T'15) to discuss their parent’s legacy, Duke basketball, and “epic” bat mitzvah hair-dos.

How did your interest in Duke begin? What made you all decide to attend?
Danyelle: As the oldest, I was the first to visit Duke, during my junior year of high school. I fell in love the minute I stepped foot on campus. It's such a wonderfully diverse school set in the South, which was so unique to me at the time. Not to mention the allure of the basketball team!
Amanda: I decided I wanted to go to Duke when Christian Laettner hit that crazy buzzer beater shot against Kentucky in 1992. My interest in the school was piqued. I was really drawn to the fact that it was a “work hard, play hard” school. I loved the combination of strong academics, strong sorority/fraternity scene and school spirit. Best decision I ever made.
Heath: Our family fell in love with the school [once Danyelle began attending] and the rest was history. The academics, social atmosphere, and athletics are truly unmatched. Oh - and the weather! And Amanda, I never realized that's what sold you. You know I own Laettner's jersey from that game ("The Shot")?!!

Were you active in Jewish life on campus when you were a student? What groups or activities were you involved with as a student?
D: When I was at Duke back in 1992, there was no Jewish center…. We had services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the basement of a church. There was no real Jewish community [at Duke] and no Jewish life to speak of, which is exactly why my parents took such an interest in creating one. It's truly amazing that Jewish life is thriving at Duke today and I'm so proud that my parents had so much to do with it.
A: I wasn't active in Jewish Life either. First, there really wasn't much opportunity to be active. Without a center, Jewish life was pretty non-existent. We grew up in a more culturally Jewish than religious home. I did as much as I could to carry that on while in school by attending services in the basement of the Bryan Center and holding at-home Seders with friends. My social life centered on my sorority, Tri-Delt.
H: The Freeman Center opened in the first half of my college career, so I wasn’t super active in Jewish Life while at Duke. I played football (Field Goal Kicker) and was in a fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, and that took up most of my free time outside of academics.

Could you tell us a bit about your career and life now?
D: I'm a food writer. About 10 years ago, I launched a blog called Restaurantgirl.com, a website that covers the New York restaurant scene. Two years later, I became the chief restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. I was the first blogger to become a critic for a major publication and the very first non-anonymous critic in country. I also published a book called Try This: Traveling the Globe without Leaving the Table, with Harper Collins. It’s like a cheat sheet to the world's cuisines, from British to Thai, Vietnamese, and everything in between. Right now, I oversee my food blog, consult with restaurants and food brands, and raise my daughter and stepson. I also invest in food and tech-related ventures, which is a huge opportunity nowadays.
A: I am the Founder and CEO of SLT (Strengthen Lengthen Tone). I own nine boutique-fitness studios in the New York City area that offer a challenging, sweaty, and fun workout that combines the best elements of Pilates with cardio and strength training. I am also the co-founder of Sweaty Saturday, a fitness industry non-profit that raises money for Partnership for a Healthier America. I'm a serial entrepreneur with a particular focus on health and wellness.
H: I’m a founding member and President of Alden Global Capital, a $1.7 billion investment firm focused on opportunistic and distressed investing. [Right after I graduated] I worked for Peter J. Solomon Company, a boutique investment bank specializing on mergers and acquisitions, restructurings and refinancing.

Besides Jewish Life at Duke, what other ways are you involved with Duke as an alum?
D: Jewish Life at Duke is my primary focus at Duke for now. I want to devote all of my energies to it.
A: I heart Duke...a lot! I am always happy to do what I can to help out Duke. I am on the Duke NY alumni board, I host annual cocktail parties at my apartment for alumni to meet and mingle, and I've participated in relevant industry and women's focused panels.
H: The Freeman Center for Jewish Life is my main passion/focus/involvement. More recently, I have been working on ways to get more involved with Duke Football, its current players and alumni.

You recently established the Freeman Family Program Fund. What inspired you to create this?
D: We're very excited and proud to launch this program, so that we can really get behind specific programs that we're passionate about. As a family, we hope to effect change and make things better for generations to come. As a new mom, that's extremely important to me, and I hope one day my children will be a part of the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.
A: We wanted the ability to fund programs that mean a lot to us personally and those that we think will really benefit Duke students and alumni.
H: Our goal is that the programs we’re supporting will change the lives of the people who participate. In the coming year, we are supporting JFAM, which is a kind of buddy system for Jewish freshmen, the Bar Mitzvah program, and the student-hosted Seders. We plan to grow the number of programs considerably in the near future. Stay tuned!

In the spirit of the upcoming Jewish Life at Duke Bar Mitzvah, what was the theme of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
D: Truth be told, I hated my Bat Mitzvah! I had a cheesy carnival theme and my hair was epic. Oh how I wish I had the chance to do it all over again! What a wonderful idea the Freeman Center Bar Mitzvahs are!
A: My Bat Mitzvah theme was "movies." Décor elements included a giant marquee, lots of video cameras, film reels and lots of black and white. The tables were named after my favorite movies and the sign in board looked like old school film.
H: My theme was Heath Bar (not very original). I did have two of my favorite athletes at the time make appearances, Pat Kelly (Yankee Second Baseman) and Rodney Hampton (Giants Running Back).


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It’s Bar Mitzvah Season

Get ready to raise a raise a chair, throw some candy, and dance the night away, because it’s Bar Mitzvah season here at Jewish Life at Duke! On March 21, Duke senior Sam Schloss will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.  Mazel Tov, Sam!

JLD’s Bar Mitzvah program was the brainchild of a group of Jewish Student Union (JSU) members back in 2012, when the then-13-year-old Freeman Center was celebrating its own “Bar Mitzvah.”  What better way to mark the occasion than to offer the same opportunity to Dukies who had missed out on this meaningful rite of passage? Since then, six Dukies have celebrated their bar or bat mitzvahs at the Freeman Center.

Under the guidance of fellow students and the rabbi, the B’nai Mitzvah candidates spend several months learning their Torah portion and completing a mitzvah project.  Parents, grandparents, and siblings come from all over to witness the ceremony alongside a diverse group of friends from across campus.

But what’s a Bar Mitzvah without a huge celebration? That evening, after the ceremony, the JSU throws – what else? – a themed party at the Freeman Center. This year’s casino-themed party is dubbed, appropriately, “Schloss Vegas” in honor of Bar Mitzvah Boy Sam Schloss. Naturally, Sam is looking forward to the big day: “I am very excited for the bar mitzvah. I missed the opportunity to have one when I was thirteen, and I am grateful that …the Jewish community here [is] helping me have one now.”

The Bar Mitzvah Program is made possible through the generosity of the Freeman Family Program Fund, which supports a number of key programs at Jewish Life at Duke.


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STAFF SPOTLIGHT - Saundra Bullock

Queen of the Kosher Kitchen

How long have you been working at the Freeman Center? What did you do before?
I always worked in dining. I started off in fine dining at a place called The Oak Room on West Campus, which is not there anymore, and I have been over at the Freeman Center for at least 10 years!

How long did it take to figure out Kashrut? 
It didn’t take me long, but after your first mistake you are always aware of what you're doing and once I made my first mistake I became very careful.

What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job at The Freeman Center is that it’s almost like a family. We have a great relationship with the [Jewish Life at Duke staff], and it is almost a totally different world than the rest of Dining Services… We kind of know everyone one-on-one; like when you come in, we know who you are, and sometimes when students come in we kind of know what they like. For instance, we know some students love the chocolate chip cookies. 

What is it like cooking Jewish foods as someone who is not Jewish? Do you ever make them for yourself at home?
You know, you get a lot of questions. When I first came I was asking myself, what is Kosher food and what do Kosher observers eat? But then you realize it is just like the same thing as other foods. A lot of people also ask me 'what do they cook at the Freeman Center and what do you all eat?'. I tell them we eat the same thing you all eat over here, it’s just the way the food is processed is different. When I go to the grocery store now, even when I am not working, I always look on the label to see if it is Kosher!

Any great recipe suggestions?
Here at the Freeman Center the kids love the brisket. For instance, one of the students from about 10 years ago, Justin Segall (he is actually on the Jewish Life at Duke board now), loved the brisket so much. Before he graduated he gave us a cookbook, which we use sometimes for different recipes. There is something about the brisket here. All the students say, “This is the best ever!”... the brisket and the matzoh balls!

Any other favorite foods according to the students?
A: Mac N’ Cheese is the most popular with the general Duke population on Thursday nights, but the Jewish kids love the brisket and matzoh ball soup.

What are some of the special requests that you've gotten over the years?
We did a birthday cake this year- one of the parents wanted to make one. Students don’t request a lot but I have had kids come in give us recipes and request certain foods.

How have students' tastes changed over the years?
I think we have more gluten free students. Before we didn’t have as many kids with allergies. We have a lot of vegan students now as well.

What's your favorite dish? 
I like when Joe [the Chef] makes the chicken noodle soup- it’s really good. When kids are sick we make the chicken noodle soup... chicken noodle soup for your soul.


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Happy 2015!

Here at Duke, students are starting the spring semester and Jewish Life at Duke is gearing up for a “Roots to Rights” Martin Luther King Day trip to Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Roots to Rights, a collaborative program of Jewish Life at Duke and The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, is an Alternative Spring Break trip exploring the Civil Rights movement in the South. The program was launched three years ago and is open to students of all backgrounds.  Typically, the itinerary includes such Civil Rights landmarks as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the site of King’s assassination; and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Atlanta.  Students get to meet eyewitnesses to these events, hear from Civil Rights scholars and participants, and – most important - learn from each other’s very different perspectives.Our 2015 Roots to Rights program will take place next Monday, January 19 (Martin Luther King Day).  Students will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, to visit the International Civil Rights Museum, whose centerpiece is the famous Woolworth’s lunch counter that helped spark the movement in 1960.  The trip is free to students and includes a tour of the museum, additional historic sights, and a meal.  
We are excited to be able to offer students this incredible experience and are thrilled that The Ronni Weksler Bermont Endowment Fund, established in 2014 by Lynne Bornstein Bermont ('96) and Bill Bermont ('97), will provide ongoing support for Roots to Rights and other social justice programming at Jewish Life at Duke. 

Lynne and Bill, thank you!



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Daniel Kort at the Queering Duke History

Daniel Kort is a senior psychology major from Los Angeles. He has appeared in The Washington Post, CNN, Cosmopolitan UK, and The Huffington Post for his work as an LGBTQ advocate. He attended 14 years of Jewish day school, spent a high school semester in Israel, and is a part of the Freeman Center's new LEAD program. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys listening to EDM and is a dedicated Cameron Crazie.Daniel Kort T'15, president of Blue Devils United, speaks at the Queering Duke History event held on September 25th.  Please listen as Daniel uses Rosh Hashanah and his Jewish experiences as a way to frame his message.


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Top 50 Colleges with Active Jewish Communities - Best Colleges

For many incoming Jewish freshmen, the presence of a Jewish student body is crucial. Learn more about the top schools with active Jewish communities.  Read more.



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"I am yours, and you are mine"

Each day this week, a member of the Duke community will share their memories of Dr. Angelou.

I was 11 years old in the sixth grade, and I needed something new to read for silent reading time at school. Looking through my family bookshelf, I came across a tiny book that looked pretty well-worn, and its author was someone I’d heard of before: Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  My mom had written her name inside the front cover, and it looked like it was a book she had read multiple times—so I grabbed that one and brought it to school.

I couldn’t ask my mom what her opinion was on the text, at that point, because of the stage of her illness. My mother was diagnosed with brain cancer six years prior, and was in a difficult place at that point in her life. Her name in the book’s cover was all the recommendation I needed to trust her judgment on the quality of this autobiography.

Sitting at school reading the book, I remember wondering whether this content was too mature for me—perhaps, I thought, I should choose something less heavy, like Holes or something. I remember raising my teacher’s eyebrows that I was tackling it at all. Who knows how much actually resonated with me at that point in my life, but I stuck with it, and I never forgot the power of Maya Angelou’s words. I remember trying to hide the tears in my eyes during the difficult moments of sexual assault in the text. I remember my indignation as a young, white female that this young, African American female recalling her autobiography could have faced such a different life than I had. These feelings stayed with me as I got older. Later in my life, I would read Toni Morrison’s novels, and I’d find myself drawing connections back to Maya Angelou’s writing. These books sparked an early anger in me, and were fundamental to my wanting to pursue work in social justice.

This book also left a connection in my head that only a sixth grader could have between Maya Angelou and my mother. That I could ever have connected my mom, a white, Jewish, Canadian woman, to Maya Angelou at all feels a little strange. But for me, I saw reading this text as a way to spend time doing something my mom had done at a time when because of her illness we couldn’t do much together. My eyes following the same words that my mom’s eyes had followed, reflecting on and connecting with the same moments she had read. Whenever I read Maya Angelou again in the years to come, my thoughts would always come back to my mother. I thank Dr. Angelou for being able to connect not just me and my mother, but so many women through the beautiful power of her language.

You could have never convinced me as an eleven year-old that someday I would meet the poet that had inspired me so much. Flash forward to my junior year after I was elected president of Delta Gamma at Duke, where our organization had partnered with Dr. Angelou for 20 years to bring her to campus for Freshman convocation in the Chapel.

I remember sitting with Dr. Angelou before the event in a side room in the front of the Chapel. We were left alone for a few minutes to spend some time together—she could probably hear my heartbeat over where she was sitting. To break my obvious nervousness, she asked me what I was studying. I told her I was a double major in Spanish and History, and a minor in political science. “Ah,” she said, “ ¿hablas Español?” she asked me in a thick accent. And there it was: Maya Angelou and I were speaking in Spanish. (Little did I know, she spoke over half a dozen languages!) Sitting in that room, Dr. Angelou told me she had hoped my introduction of her wouldn’t be a list of her accomplishments, as she found those so boring. I assured her mine wasn’t, and that she could trust me. With my heart beating so fast and my blood rushing a million miles per hour, how could I even begin in that moment to share with her the connections in my head I had between her and my mother, that I’d drawn courage from her for almost 10 years of my life. This moment of spending time with the poet I admired so greatly was unreal. All I could say was that she’d have to let me know afterward what she thought of the introduction.  She told me “buena suerte,” good luck, and that she would let me know.Dr. Angelou spoke so beautifully that summer day in the Chapel. She told the freshman class, “I am yours and you are mine,” noting that she didn’t live far away over by Wake Forest, and they could write to her anytime. Sharing herself with the world was Maya Angelou’s part of her power as a poet. I had considered her words mine since I first read them, and before then her words were my mother’s. Now this incredible woman was offering to share herself with over a thousand more people—I wonder how many letters she got following the event.

After the speech concluded, and the freshmen boarded the parade of C-1s back to East, I stepped outside with my Delta Gamma sisters and my father to meet back up with Dr. Angelou. She greeted us outside with a smile, open arms, and embraced me and said, “Becki, you were so smooth!” I could have fainted.

The world lost a beautiful mind last week, and the Duke community lost a piece that was shared with us for so long. I am incredibly privileged to have met and spent time with Dr. Angelou, a woman whose writing will be a part of me for the rest of my life, and created an eternal connection to my mother. May she rest in peace.

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