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IOWA Magazine | 03-04-2021

New Scholarship Honors Longtime Iowa Professor Jay Holstein

Avengers director Joe Russo and three other Hawkeyes share how the popular religious studies professor has opened the minds of generations of students.
Jay Holstein and Nate Staniforth PHOTO: JOHN EMIGH Professor Jay Holstein stands with his former student Nate Staniforth (05BA) during an event this past fall that honored Holstein's teaching legacy at Iowa.

Religious studies professor Jay Holstein watched as video and Twitter tributes poured in from family members, colleagues, and students he taught during his five decades at Iowa.

He had one word in response to the wave of appreciation he received during the University of Iowa virtual event held this past fall in his honor: “humbling.”

The evening, which featured a lecture from Holstein, ended with a surprise announcement of the establishment of the Professor Jay Holstein Scholarship Legacy Fund. The fund celebrates Holstein’s career at Iowa by supporting scholarships, faculty, curriculum, and other initiatives that will help students flourish for years to come.

Here are a few highlights from the event that show how the ordained rabbi shaped many young minds and inspired such a generous gift from former students.


Ellen Holstein

Ellen Holstein

Wife and adjunct instructor of religious studies at Iowa

"You are still here, still teaching, and in some cases, teaching the children and the grandchildren of your former students. And it’s kind of overwhelming to think about how many minds you have challenged to think differently; to think bigger; to think better; to think, period."


Joe Russo

Joe Russo (92BA)

Director of Avengers: Endgame

"Professor Holstein has had the biggest impact on my life of anyone outside of my immediate family. He has taught me so much about metaphor, thematics, and human narrative, and I can honestly say I would not be where I am today without Professor Holstein. I would not have the comprehensive understanding of narrative that I do; I would not be able to reach audiences the way that I’ve been able to throughout the last 20 years of my career without his influence. He opened my eyes to the world of storytelling throughout human history and what is so impactful and profound about the best narratives, and I will be forever grateful to you for that, Doc."


Sheri Salata

Sheri Salata (80BBA)

TV producer and author of The Beautiful No: And Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation

"I do remember sitting in that executive producer chair at The Oprah Winfrey Show … and I would think of Rabbi Holstein, who opened up a whole new world for me, a different way to think about my life, to think about my purpose, to think about enlightenment, and how that would inform the rest of my days."


John Shallman

John Shallman (86BA)

Author of Return From Siberia

"Jay Holstein understood how to teach people to look at books as gifts. And every time I opened a book—it didn’t matter whether it was Hesse or Hemingway—I learned about life. I learned about man and his relationship with man and nature, and it was an incredible way to tell us the power of stories. I was never so inspired as I was with Jay Holstein. So here I am, 38 years later, thanking him for being such an amazing teacher, hero, and role model."

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