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Yona Shem-Tov: A Young Leader to Watch

by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Published on May 18, 2011 in Multifaith World

Yona Shem-Tov

Yona Shem-Tov, the newly appointed exec­u­tive director of Encounter Programs brings to this posi­tion a remark­able set of expe­ri­ences as a multi­faith educator and activist. Last night I learned more about Yona while attending a Gala to honor the outgoing director of Encounter, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub.

Yona was educated in Toronto in a Jewish day school, so she comes to this work with a strong grounding in her own iden­tity and tradi­tion. At the same time, Yona has always appre­ci­ated national and cultural diver­sity. Her mother survived the Holocaust as a child in Europe; her father was born in Iraq and was part of the first airlift of Jews from that country to Israel in 1951.

While Yona began her career as a passionate Jewish educator, serving as a Jewish day school history teacher, her inter­ests extended outward toward other faith commu­ni­ties and the chal­lenges they face. She even­tu­ally studied for a PhD at New York University; her research involved the teaching of history in Jewish and Muslim-American schools.

Yona’s multi­faith engage­ment includes envi­sioning and launching The Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, a transna­tional network of Jewish and Muslim social entre­pre­neurs and teaching in a path breaking program for youth involving a Jewish and a Muslim Day School through Abraham’s Vision.

Last night, Yona spoke movingly of her vision for Encounter, a program that brings American Jews to the West Bank to expe­ri­ence Palestinian life. Close to 1000 Jewish leaders (and emerging leaders) have already partic­i­pated, gaining a more nuanced under­standing of the conflict. Yona shared with us the metaphor of a kalei­do­scope. She chal­lenged the audi­ence to bring new pieces of reality into their line of sight. The beauty of the image capti­vated me. While inter­re­li­gious engage­ment is some­times fraught with pain, it is also a place where new and beau­tiful visions can arise.

I found the idea completely lovely, and I look forward to keeping my eye on Yona Shem-Tov and on Encounter.

Click here for the orig­inal article. 

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Encounter is an edu­ca­tional orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to strength­ening the capacity of the Jewish people to be construc­tive agents of change in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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