LCW Alumna Receives $90,000 Soros Fellowship
Matty Lichtenstein one of 30 to receive competitive award
For Matty Lichtenstein, navigating the narrow bridge where traditional Chasidic tradition and American culture collide has landed her a coveted Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
Covering two years of graduate study and living expenses, the $90,000 fellowship was awarded to 30 applicants from a diverse pool of more than 1,000 young immigrants or children of immigrants to this country.
Lichtenstein graduated in 2003 from Lander College for Women-The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School (LCW) and later taught four courses at LCW, including Modern Jewish Thought and Selected Topics in Chasidim and the Mitnagdim. The child of Israeli immigrants who were children of Holocaust survivors, she grew up in Brooklyn steeped in the tradition of Gerer Chasidim. Her family provided a window on another world, one Lichtenstein, who is working toward a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, wanted to explore further.
“I grew up in a religious community, in a well-read, educated household, overflowing with books,” says Lichtenstein, who was the only girl in her high school class to take the SAT. “In a way, the Chasidic community was sort of a religious counter-culture, different than the mainstream. But knowing mainstream American culture, and also being part of the Jewish community, I was interested in how people in different worlds navigate that.”
She had a powerful role model for scholarship and leadership in her mother, Ruth Lichtenstein. Named one of the Jewish Daily Forward’s Forward 50 in 2012, Ruth Lichtenstein is publisher of the Hamodia daily newspaper. An educator and Holocaust historian, she is founder of the Holocaust education center, Project Witness, where Matty Lichtenstein served as executive editor. The project produced Witness to History, a thoroughly detailed and well-regarded book that explores the Orthodox Jewish experience during the Shoah.
That project engrossed Lichtenstein for seven years, during which time she also earned a master’s degree, in English, magna cum laude, from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She went on to complete another degree in Jewish philosophy from Yeshiva University in New York, as well.
Although at Project Witness she really cut her teeth on serious academic research, it was at LCW that Lichtenstein’s ideas began to come together. Majoring in English and communications, she studied with Michael Llorenz, who encouraged rigorous research and inquiry.
“It was where I started being able to formulate my own interests,” she says. A research project for Llorenz’s class about how different religious communities deal with child abuse helped bring together some of her ideas about religion, culture, and politics. “It was really an eye-opening class, and I got a lot of encouragement to pursue graduate school.”
Lichtenstein’s “exceptionally high standards” as a professor several years later led her to always expect the best of her students, according to LCW Dean Marian Stoltz-Loike.
“She inspired them to reach those lofty goals,” says Stoltz-Loike. “LCW prides itself on inspiring students to achieve through our dynamic classrooms, exciting extracurricular programs, and thought-provoking speaker series.”
Lichtenstein impressed the Soros fellowship’s selection committee, as well, with her ability to both respect her roots and to explore beyond them, according to Stan Heginbotham, who directs the program and mentors the fellows.
“She is bringing together the specialized training of a Ph.D. in sociology with a set of perspectives that I think will lead her to have insights on the character of the sociology of religions in this country,” he says.
The fellowship targets those, like Lichtenstein, who “show a kind of spark of creativity and originality that suggests they are going to make a difference to the country and really, in a way, continue the contributions that immigrants have traditionally made,” he says.