From the January 2021 issue (127) of Aleph Bet Gimmel
Danny Cohen-Zada was born and raised in the Daled neighborhood of Beer-Sheva, a stone's throw from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). He used to gaze at the University's buildings from his bedroom window and make plans for the future that included studying at the University. This dream had to wait until he completed his military service, first as a combat soldier in the Givati Brigade, and later as a communications officer in the Golani brigade. Today, sitting in the Chairman's office of the Department of Economics, Prof. Danny Cohen-Zada can look back with satisfaction.
Cohen-Zada enrolled as a student in the Department of Economics as soon as he finished with the army. He completed his undergraduate degree in just two years(!) and was so taken with academic life, that he continued to a 'direct to PhD program,' under the guidance of Prof. Moshe Justman.
The familial atmosphere of the Department of Economics at BGU convinced Prof. Cohen-Zada to return as a faculty member. After a year as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, he returned home. His successful career has led to his appointment as Chair of the Department in 2019.
His doctoral dissertation dealt with the demand for private education in the USA as based on economic models, and his research continues to focus on the economics of education and the economics of religion, as well as on the intersections between the two. Most recently, Prof. Cohen-Zada and his graduate student, Itay Atar, have been studying the effects of age when starting school on lifelong achievements, especially student integration into higher education and the labor market.
“Our Department has succeeded over the years in forging a 'familial' atmosphere of 'togetherness,' and maintaining that is especially important to me," said Prof. Cohen-Zada. “Over the past year we launched two new study tracks and succeeded in increasing both undergraduate and master's degree enrollments. We have made extraordinary efforts to provide the Accounting Program with all it needs to succeed, and thanks to the joint efforts of the students, faculty, and program director, it has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. 95% of the Department's students who took this year's accountancy certification exams passed them successfully. This is the highest success rate in the country. The numbers speak for themselves: 63 out of 66 economics students from BGU who took the exam this year, passed. Most other institutions of higher education are trailing far behind."
Question: “what are the qualities of an ideal faculty member?"
Answer: “It is important to me to recruit faculty members who fill the following criteria: excellence in research, skilled in teaching, and the able to instill a collegial spirit. Anyone who joins us must fit in with the unique environment that makes our Department special."
Q: “Let's go back to the beginning: why did you choose to study economics?"
A: “When I enrolled in the Department, I thought the focus of my degree would be business and money-making, and that certainly appealed to me. I found the courses in finance and in accounting particularly attractive, but ultimately, I chose a different direction. I had already enrolled in the Accountancy Program when Professor Justman suggested I sign up for the graduate program. The topics and assignments he gave me ultimately led me to study the economics of education, which I have been researching ever since."
Let's get personal
Do you have a role model?
“I greatly admire the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, z"l, for his perseverance and mastery of the Torah, for his concern for others, and for his superior qualities."
Favorite leisure activities?
“When I was young, I was into judo. I trained with the neighborhood community center team. One year, I even won the national judo championship and was part of the national team. Today I have practically no time for leisure or hobbies. Advancing my research and running the Department, in addition to being the father of seven children, leave me very little spare time. I try to devote what extra time I have left to in-depth study of the Torah."
What about social networks?
“From what I have heard, it seems like a waste of time. I am all for creating unmediated connections between people and it seems to me that these networks negatively affect the ability to create such connections."
Books and literature?
“The books I read nowadays have to do with Halakah, ethics, and Jewish thought (the Rambam, Talmud)."
“I prefer to travel in the north, to places with natural forests and water sources."
If you weren't an economist, what would you do?
“I dream of immersing myself in Jewish studies, growing and evolving in the world of Torah."