2016 Participant Bios


Rabbi Sid Schwarz is a senior fellow at Clal where he directs the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) and the New Paradigm Spiritual Communities Initiative. He was the founder and president of PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values for 21 years. He is also the founding rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, MD where he continues to teach and lead services. He is the author of Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews can Transform the American Synagogue; Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World; and Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Community.



Claudia Horwitz founded stone circles at The Stone House in 1995 to sustain people working for transformation and justice. The Stone House, located on 70 acres in Mebane, NC, was one of the first land-based centers to unite deep practice and strategic action.  She now supports social justice movement work as a writer, trainer and facilitator. She is the author of The Spiritual Activist: Practices to Transform Your Life, Your Work and Your World.



Dr. Tobin Belzer is an applied sociologist whose research and program evaluations have focused on experiential education, leadership training, organizational culture, congregational studies, arts and culture, teens, emerging adults, identity, character development, gender, inclusion, media and technology, and education.  Belzer is a Contributing Fellow at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) at the University of Southern California. With Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, she is the co-editor of Joining the Sisterhood: Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives.



Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston are both affiliated with Harvard Divinity School. Their recent study, How We Gather and a follow-up study, Something More, looks at the changing landscape of American religion with a particular emphasis on the Millenial phenomenon “spiritual but not religious”. Their work parallels the exploration at the heart of the New Paradigm Spiritual Community Initiative. Angie has been a playwright and an arts administrator in New York City and now focuses her work on collaborations that foster spiritual growth. Casper is the co-founder of the UK Youth Climate Coalition and Campaign Bootcamp. His focus is on serving non-religious people who want to build a world of joyful belonging.



Zahara Zahav is the Program Manager and Network Organizer of Rabbis Without Borders at Clal. An alumnus of the Pardes Institute and of Yeshivat Hadar, Zahara is dedicated to building spiritually and politically awake Jewish spaces. As an AVODAH fellow, Zahara worked as a program and development associate at Footsteps, an organization for people transitioning out of the ultra-Orthodox community.



Adam Segulah Sher serves as Director of Transformative Experiences for Hazon, based at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, where he has worked with a broad spectrum of growing-edge spiritual community leaders to create and host hundreds of retreats, conferences, holidays, and festivals over the past nine years. He met his wife, Megan, when she was staff for the Adamah Farm and Fellowship at Isabella Freedman in 2007, and they now reside a few miles from the retreat center in Falls Village with their toddler teacher, Eli Abraham Sher.


Meredith Levick is the Associate Director of Education at Hazon in the New York office. She received her MA in Jewish education with a focus on experiential education from JTS and completed a concentration in Israel education via the iCenter. Meredith serves as the staffperson for Hazon’s Jewish Intentional Communities Initiative.


Rabbi Alana Alpert received rabbinic ordination from Hebrew College in 2014 and serves a small Reconstructionist congregation in Detroit. She is the co-founder of Detroit Jews for Justice, which is organizing the Jewish community in Metro Detroit to participate in movements for racial, social, and economic justice. She is a graduate of AVODAH: the Jewish Service Corps and ACTIVATE! The Community Organizing Fellowship of Social Justice Leadership.


Rabbi Elan Babchuk is currently a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Providence, RI but will be joining Clal in July as its Director of Innovation. Elan has been an entrepreneur for many years, beginning as a teenager with the founding of a public day camp for children with special needs. In 2013, he co-founded (401)j – a ground-up, pluralistic young adult community and most recently, he co-founded Thrive: The Center for Mindfulness and Well-Being.


Melissa Balaban is the Executive Director and Founding president of IKAR. Prior to joining IKAR, Melissa was Assistant Dean at the University of Southern California Law School, Directing Attorney of Public Counsel’s Child Care Law Project, a senior consultant for a national human resources consulting firm, and an adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount MBA program.


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat was ordained as a rabbi and mashpi’ah (spiritual director) by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Author of several collections of poetry (among them 70 faces: Torah poems), she has blogged since 2003 as the Velveteen Rabbi. She serves as co-chair of ALEPH.


Helen Bennett is currently working with the Ayni Institute, a training organization dedicated to creating and supporting local and national movements and communities with tools like escalation, mass training, decentralized organization, and systems of mutual aid.  Helen is an alumna of the Adamah, Hadar, and JOIN Fellowships, has been a planning team member for Jewish Intentional Communities and Hazon Food Conferences, was an organizer for JOIN for Justice, is Rosh Organizer on the community board for the Moishe Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, and is a founder of the Lefty Shabbaton/Jewish Resilience Gathering.


Ross Berkowitz is the founder and Executive Director of Tribe 12, a Philadelphia based organization that engages 20s and 30s in Jewish community today so they will choose to stay involved in Jewish life long term. Inspired through multiple long term Israel experiences, 15 formative years in Habonim Dror, and studying the history and sociology of religion, Ross is a social entrepreneur with a background as a camp director, a Hillel professional, an educator and an activist in the Jewish community.


Mariel (Michal) Boyarsky has lived in and contributed to vibrant Jewish communities in New York, New Orleans, Tel Aviv, and Seattle.  She was one of the co-founders of Selah, Seattle’s indie minyan, and she is a partner and regular Torah reader at the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle.  Michal is passionate about Jewish ritual and community, and believes in the power of organized Jewish communities to contribute to local, national, and global struggles for justice.


Kohenet Sarah Shamirah Chandler is the C.C.O. (Chief Compassion Officer) and team leader for the Jewish Initiative for Animals (JIFA), where she works to support Jewish institutions to establish meaningful food policies rooted in Jewish ethics and animal welfare. She recently served as the Director of Earth Based Spiritual Practice for Hazon’s Adamah Farm and teaches, writes and consults on a national level on issues related to Judaism, the environment, mindfulness, food values, and farming.


Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc. Stosh developed and directed Bend the Arc’s influential Selah Leadership Program which has trained over 300 leaders, including over 60 executive directors, in practicing transformative leadership for progressive change. Before joining Bend the Arc, Stosh was the founder and director of an anti-violence organization for women and youth. (Steering Committee)


Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg has been Rabbi of Beth Am Synagogue since July of 2010. He blogs at www.theUrbanRabbi.org and has helped to articulate a congregational vision for Beth Am’s community engagement initiative and “In, For Of, Inc.” an independently registered non-profit affiliated with Beth Am which seeks to “build Reservoir Hill relationships.”  Rabbi Burg lives near Beth Am with his wife Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg and their two children, Eliyah and Shamir.


Jacob Feinspan is the Executive Director of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), which helps Jews from the Washington and Baltimore region act on their shared Jewish values by pursuing justice and equality in the local community. Before joining JUFJ, Jacob founded the advocacy program at American Jewish World Service and coordinated anti-poverty advocacy and grant-making at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  He serves on the advisory boards of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and DC Working Families, and is the past chair of the Jubilee USA Network.


Shir Yaakov Feit is the co-founder of Kol Hai: Husdon Valley Jewish Renewal. His music helped fuel the growth of NYC’s Romemu, where he served as both Music and Creative Director. He is a student in the Rabbinic track of the ALEPH Ordination Program. shiryaakov.com


Rabbi Jacob Fine is the Founder and Director of Abundance Farm, a Jewish food justice farm and outdoor classroom in Northampton, MA.  For the past 16 years, Jacob has worked and taught in the fields of Jewish environmental, agricultural and food justice education. Jacob also serves as the Director of Jewish Life at Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton.


Rabbi Laura Geller is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. The third woman to be ordained by HUC, she was one of the first women to be selected to lead a major metropolitan synagogue. Her most recent project is “NextStage: The Boomer and Beyond Initiative” which is exploring how Jewish tradition and new forms of Jewish community can enrich and reengage baby boomers and help them discover how to get good at getting older and giving back.


Rachel Gildiner directs Gather the Jews which supports and provides resources to Jewish 20s & 30s in the DC area. She strives to help every Jew find or create a relevant and meaningful Jewish life, through deep listening, creative problem solving, and through the power of immersive experiences.


Cara Gold is currently enrolled in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. Her interest is in creating initiatives that welcome 20s and 30-something Jews who are disengaged, disaffiliated or on the margins. Previous to pursuing graduate school, she spent her time in Toronto founding a Jewish grassroots ritual community, developing and teaching a Jewish social justice curriculum and co-creating a Jewish social impact investment and giving collective.


Rabbi Lisa Goldstein is the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.  A California native, she directed Hillel of San Diego for many years and still maintains close relationships with former students.  She was also a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow where she worked on a project exploring Jewish contemplative practices and social justice work. (Steering Committee)


Mónica Gomery is a lover of song, poetry, community, Talmud, pushing for justice and equity, big questions, and humble hearts. She is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College, and is involved in numerous projects that bring Jewish song, spirit, and study to those who have traditionally not had access to them.


Rabbi Brad Greenstein is Moishe House’s Rabbi and Director of Immersive Learning.  Ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Brad served for eight years as the associate rabbi for a large synagogue in Portland, Oregon and now lives back in his hometown of San Diego.


Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann is the founder of Mishkan Chicago, an independent, post-denominational spiritual community whose mission is to engage, educate, empower and inspire people in Chicago and beyond through dynamic experiences of Jewish prayer, learning, social activism and community building.  She was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, educated at Stanford University and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.


Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the President of Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (Harmony, 2008). He also conceived and hosted two groundbreaking series for Bridges TV—American Muslim TV Network, Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today and American Pilgrimage.


Rabbi David Jaffe is the principal of Kirva, a training institute dedicated to helping people and organizations access Jewish spiritual wisdom for making sustainable social change.  His book, Changing the World from the Inside Out will be published by Shambhala Books in 2016. David was instructor of rabbinics, dean and spiritual advisor at Gann Academy: The New Jewish High School of Boston for 11 years, where he continues to consult on issues of Jewish ethics.


Rabbi James Kahn is the Director of Chaplaincy & Jewish Engagement at the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) in Greater Washington D.C. where he uses Jewish wisdom/practice to empower and nourish those confronting major life challenges, along with the staff that serve them.  Prior to JSSA, James worked as the Senior Jewish Educator at University of Maryland Hillel.  He is a graduate of Hebrew College in Boston.


Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar. Elie has previously worked as a journalist, banker, and corporate fraud investigator. He completed his doctorate in liturgy at the Jewish Theological Seminary and is a co-founder of the independent minyan Kehilat Hadar. He was selected as an inaugural AVI CHAI Fellow and is the author of Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities (Jewish Lights, 2010). (Steering Committee)


Rabbi Andrew Kastner received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He has been working on projects that focus on building connections to community, place and Jewish wisdom. Andrew currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his family and is working to integrate successful community engagement models from the Coasts to the Midwest.


Dove Kent is the Executive Director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) in New York. Dove has over a decade of experience in issue-based, identity-based, and neighborhood-based community organizing in the fields of affordable housing, immigrant justice, police accountability, restorative justice, worker rights, and religious freedom. She teaches widely on anti-Semitism and the roles of Jews in the movement for justice.


Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block is Rabbi-in-Residence and Deputy Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. He also directs the Selah Leadership Program which trains a cross-section of executive-level social justice leaders to be effective, sustainable and collaborative agents for change.  Jason is a founding member of Eastern Village Cohousing where he lives with his wife, sustainable food activist and KOL Foods founder Devora Kimelman-Block, and their four children. (Steering Committee)


Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet, an organization she founded in 2001. She was the executive producer of Keshet’s award-winning documentary, Hineni: Coming Out in a Jewish High School. Prior to leading Keshet, Idit was an activist in the LGBT community in Israel and played a role in organizing efforts to create the Jerusalem Open House.


Aharon Ariel Lavi is the founder of Garin Shuva, a mission-driven community bordering Gaza and of the Nettiot Network which reengages ba’alei teshuva into Israeli society. He is the co-founder of the National Council of Mission-Driven Communities and is a consultant to Hazon’s Intentional Communities Initiative.


Hart Levine lives in Washington Heights. He works with the Orthodox Union on connecting Jews to meaningful Jewish community, both on college campuses around America (Heart to Heart) and in the Heights (The Beis Community).


Daniel Libenson is Founder and President of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, an education and idea center dedicated to inspiring radical Jewish creativity and accelerating bold innovation in Jewish life. He is also Founder and Director of Jewish U, a campus organization focused on empowering students to build Jewish communities and home-based experiences for themselves and their peers. Dan is currently working on a book, tentatively titled “Disruptive Rejuvenation,” on the changing nature of Judaism.


Jakir Manela is the Executive Director of the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore, MD.  After founding Kayam Farm at Pearlstone in 2006, Jakir now directs the entire agency, working with his staff to engage over 20,000 participants each year in retreats, transformative Jewish education, and hands-on sustainability.  Together with his wife and three sons, Jakir is establishing a Jewish ecovillage on the Pearlstone Campus.


Yavilah McCoy is the founder of Ayecha, one of the first nonprofit Jewish organizations to provide Jewish diversity education and advocacy for Jews of color in the United States. Yavilah is currently the CEO of Visions Incorporated where she directs a team of 37 consultants in providing community education, youth empowerment, and anti-racism consulting to national and international communities.


Rabbi Jessica Minnen is the Resident Rabbi at OneTable, an online and in-person hub that inspires emerging adults to host and share Shabbat dinner. She is also the founder of Seven Wells, a workshop series that helps engaged and recently married couples explore their relationship through a Jewish framework, and the founder of Ecstatic Mincha, a monthly Shabbat afternoon dance party in Brooklyn.


Rabbi Avram Mlotek works as a rabbi and co-founder of Base Hillel in the Flatiron/Union Square neighborhood of  Manhattan.  His Yiddish cultural work has brought him to China, Ethiopia, Israel, Sweden and Australia.


Rabbi Lee Moore is Director of Jewish and Organizational Learning at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and Senior Jewish Educator for Hillel at Kent State, serving both organizations since 2010 when she was ordained from Hebrew College. She has developed conceptual work on models such as Jewish fluency, Jewish sensibilities and applied Jewish wisdom, as well as the Jewish Sensibilities Deck.


Blair Nosan is a Jewish pickler, a self-titled Spontaneous Preservationist. She was born in Detroit’s suburbs, first learned to pickle at Adamah in the summer of 2008, and has been thinking about Jews, preservation, and transformation ever since. She lives in Detroit.


Nati Passow is the co-founder and executive director of the Jewish Farm School.  He has been a leader in the Jewish environmental movement for over ten years. Nati is currently focused on creating the Center for Urban Sustainability (CUSP) in West Philadelphia where he lives with his family.


Eden Pearlstein is a multi-disciplinary musician, author and educator. Eden records and performs his own material as a solo artist under the moniker, ePRHYME, and “plays well with others” in various collaborative projects including Darshan (a mystical Jewish music and poetry project with Shir Yaakov and Basya Schechter). Eden’s educational work mostly revolves around the intersection between the creative process and philosophical teachings, spiritual practices, and ritual arts of Judaism, both ancient and contemporary.


Rabbi Scott Perlo is the Associate Director of Jewish Programming of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C. Engaging young professionals across the widest possible spectrum of Jewish background and connection, Scott has pioneered techniques for bringing classic Jewish texts, propositions of meaning, and communal practices to an ever broader Jewish and interfaith community.


Rabbi Aaron Potek is from Saint Louis Park, MN and currently serves as the Community Educator for Gather the Jews in Washington, DC. Before that he was the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern University. He was ordained from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.


Shamu Sadeh co-founded Adamah and has been its program director since 2004. He has been a farmer, teacher, writer and wilderness guide. Drawn to the integration of soul and soil, he works for the creation of a fruitful ecological landscape that builds confidence, mindfulness and community among participants.


Beth Sandweiss is a psychotherapist who is fascinated by the intersection of psychology, Jewish spiritual practice, mindfulness meditation and social justice. She co-founded the Jewish Meditation Center of Montclair NJ and serves as Director of Mindfulness Programs at the Jewish Wellness Center of Northern NJ. In that capacity she leads workshops and trainings for hospitals, universities, summer camps, synagogues, the CCAR, Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Federation.


Nigel Savage founded Hazon in 2000 and has been its President and CEO ever since. Before founding Hazon, Nigel was a professional fund manager in London. He has an MA in History from Georgetown, and has learned at Pardes, Yakar, and the Hebrew University.  He was a founder of Limmud NY, and serves on the board of Romemu. (Steering Committee)


Margot Seigle is a founding organizer of Lefty Shabbaton, a retreat for radical Jews structured around the observance of Shabbat, of the Jewish Resilience Gathering, a convening of radical Jewish leaders rooted in Jewish rituals, traditions and practices, and of Let My People Sing!, a weekend of Jewish song singing and sharing.  She is also a holder of Jewish ritual space and a participant in Shefa Gold’s Kol Zimra Jewish Chanting Program.


Sara Shalva is the Director of Jewish Innovation at the DCJCC. For the past fifteen years Sara has interwoven her skills enhancing lives, strengthening organizations and transforming communities.  Sara is also a Bikram Yoga teacher.


Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at Clal. Rabbis Without Borders stimulates and supports creativity in religious life. In addition, Rebecca is a consultant, speaker, published author, and manager of the Rabbis Without Borders blog. Previously she was the Director of the MetroWest Jewish Health and Healing Center providing mind, body, and spiritual services from a Jewish point of view.


Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman is founder and Director of Rimon: A Collaborative Community for Jewish Spirituality. She was also a co-founder of The Berkshire Minyan. Ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion, prior to working in the Jewish world she served clients as a psychotherapist and Feng Shui consultant.


Ilana Sumka is the founder and director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, cultivating a practice of creative Jewish Nonviolence in support of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.  She previously served as Encounter’s Jerusalem director and has worked with American Jewish World Service, NY’s Working Families Party and SEIU 32BJ.  She also teaches Jewish conversion classes in Brussels, Belgium.


Rabbi Rachel Timoner is the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she is interested in exploring the edge of what synagogue can be.  She previously served as associate rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles.  Before that, she worked for fourteen years in social justice non-profits and as a consultant in organizational development and strategic planning.


Karla Van Praag is the second Executive Director of the Jewish Organizing Initiative, re-named JOIN for Justice in 2012.  The organization trains thousands of Jewish leaders across the country in how to use community organizing to strengthen Jewish communities and create social justice. Karla holds a Master in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.


Rob Weinberg is the National Director of the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) and Project Manager of the Jim Joseph Foundation Education Initiative, both at HUC‑JIR. Rob is a member of Union of Reform Judaism faculty and a change consultant to the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution. Rob holds a PhD in Organization Behavior from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.


Lawrence Yermack is on the Board of Directors as well as treasurer of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. He is the co-founder, along with Rabbi Chai Levy, of the Center for Jewish Spirituality at Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon, CA. The Center is seeking to create an intentional spiritual community in Marin County California using the modalities pioneered by IJS.


Rabbi Shawn Zevit serves as rabbi at Mishkan Shalom, in Philadelphia. He is co-director with Rabbi Marcia Prager of the Davennen Leader’s Training Institute.  A liturgical recording and performing artist, Shawn has been an organizer for over twenty years of www.jewishmensretreat.org. With Harry Brod he co-edited Brother Keepers: New Perspectives in Jewish Masculinity and he is the author of Offerings of the Heart: Money and Values in Faith Community.