Staff & Board
Encounter’s Staff Team
Ariel Brickman, Senior Outreach and Operations AssociateAriel graduated cum laude from the Joint Program between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University with a BA in Modern Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University. Her interest in the Jewish-American community’s engagement with Israel led her to work with several organizations prior to Encounter where she designed and implemented programming that focused on the intersection between the Jewish community, Jewish identity, and the manner in which the young North American Jewish community engages with the major problems of the 21st century. Ariel is also involved in cross-cultural education and is a volunteer facilitator for Soliya.
Adina Mermelstein Konikoff, Director of Community EngagementAdina is a passionate advocate and veteran Jewish communal professional with a decade of experience in program development, facilitation, and strategic organizing aimed at engaging and supporting leaders to take action consistent with their values. Most recently as a Senior Organizer at American Jewish World Service, Adina trained and inspired Jewish leaders around the country to mobilize the American Jewish community around the human rights of marginalized people in the developing world. She has worked with hundreds of rabbis and leaders to support them in living their values of seeking greater justice for all. Through running fellowships, service-learning programs, alumni programming, Adina cultivated a strong network of leaders committed to taking action. She is a transplant to the suburbs of Manhattan, where she lives in White Plains with her husband Ari, daughter Amalya and son Yonah. Adina graduated from Boston University with degrees in psychology and Spanish, is Selah Leadership Alumna and a Facilitation Fellow with Resetting the Table.
Melanie Landau, Director of Leadership ProgramsFrom Melbourne, Australia, Melanie holds a law degree, an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies and most recently, a PhD presenting a feminist critique of traditional Jewish Marriage (forthcoming by Continuum Books). She served for eight years as Lecturer and Community Educator at the Australian Center for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University and has taught Jewish texts in Israel, the US, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, Melanie is practiced at facilitating Jewish rituals and serving as a mentor and consultant to a wide range of communal organizations. A past Mandel Jerusalem Fellow, Melanie is both trained and experienced in leadership development, facilitation, and spiritual guidance. She has joined the Advanced Kollel track of Yeshivat Maharat Class of 2015 and is learning in the Pardes Kollel.Sarah graduated in 2012 from The University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Her college experience and other immersive American Jewish environments have inspired her path toward better preparing America’s leaders for more productive paths to peace. While studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies for two years, Sarah focused her learning on the intersection of Jewish identity, Jewish conflict resolution techniques and Jewish tradition. Her passion for social justice has also led her to work with The American Jewish World Service and Tivnu.
Heidi Rosbe, Deputy DirectorHeidi holds a Master of International Affairs degree (2010), focused on Human Rights, Conflict and Gender Policy, from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She previously served as the Associate Director of the Arab American Association of New York, a non-profit family services and cultural center for Arab immigrants. Heidi has spent many years designing and facilitating youth and adult programs in the United States, Canada, Cyprus, Syria and the West Bank for various organizations including the United Nations Development Programme. She has also worked internationally on research projects including conflict assessments of Jordan and Sri Lanka, and for the Women’s Refugee Commission, developing vocational training materials for programs in Liberia. Heidi is a trained mediator and speaks some Arabic, French, and Spanish.
Rakhel Shapiro, Grant Writer and Foundation RelationsRakhel graduated with honors from Vassar College in 2011, with a BA in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. During her studies she focused on theory and practice of intercultural and interpersonal engagement, Israeli and Palestinian narratives and understandings, and American and European relationships with the Middle East. Prior to her position as Development and Communications Associate with Encounter, Rakhel served in the same line of work as Development and Communications Intern with Encounter from Summer 2010 through Spring 2011 and Development Intern with Seeds of Peace in Spring 2012. Rakhel is proficient in Hebrew and speaks Modern Standard Arabic at the intermediate level.
Erica Shaps, Middle East Program CoordinatorPrior to joining Encounter, Erica spent two years as an Entwine Fellow with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Israel. Through this role, she helped vulnerable populations with workforce development, specifically Arab citizens of Israel and Haredim. She simultaneously participated in Encounter’s Davar Acher Leadership Fellowship. Erica graduated from Brandeis University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and International and Global Studies and a minor in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies. She first actualized her commitment to intra/interfaith work and conflict transformation by co-founding the Brandeis Interfaith Group and Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World – a student-led initiative creating more constructive conversations about Israel and the Middle East on campus.
Yona Shem-Tov, Executive DirectorYona joined the Encounter team as Executive Director in 2011. Prior to joining Encounter, Yona worked a consultant to the Edmond & Benjamin Rothschild Foundation, where she helped envision and launch The Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, a network of Jewish and Muslim social entrepreneurs in France, the UK and USA. Yona helped create Re/Presenting the Jewish Past, a network of Jewish history educators from across Canada and the USA, where she served as Associate Director. She pursued doctoral work in Education and Jewish Studies at New York University as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, researching citizenship and history education in Jewish and Muslim-American schools.
Leah Solomon, Regional DirectorLeah Solomon has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential pluralistic Jewish education. She served most recently as Associate Director of the Nesiya Institute for a decade, where she helped cultivate meaningful relationships among diverse Jewish participants, and developed and facilitated programs which explored the complexity of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She worked previously at Genesis at Brandeis University and Gann Academy in Boston. Leah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, and completed advanced studies at the Conservative Yeshiva, Pardes, and the Hartman Institute. She is editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher and a contributing writer at Jewschool on topics relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Encounter’s Current Interns and Volunteers
Katie Falk, Development InternKatie graduated from Middlebury College with a Bachelor’s degree in International and Global Studies, focused on Middle Eastern history and Arabic. Throughout her college experience, she engaged in immersive language programs including spending a summer at Middlebury Language Schools and a semester in Amman at the University of Jordan. Her interests in Judaism, history, and the Arabic language culminated in her Senior thesis, which analyzed the experiences of Jews living in Iraq and Egypt at the beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to joining Encounter, Katie spent five months living in Tel Aviv and interning at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) with their International Relations department.
Board of Directors
Martin I. Bresler
Martin I. Bresler has for fifteen years been a member, and is the immediate past Chair, of Americans for Peace Now. For many years he was actively involved with The American Jewish Committee, serving as President of the New York Chapter; as a member of the National Board of Governors, as a National Vice President and on many committees and boards. He served for many years on the Board of the Park East Day School, affiliated with the Park East Synagogue. Martin is currently also a member of the Boards of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center.
Martin has lived in New York City all his life. He earned a business degree from City College of New York (Baruch School) and a law degree from Harvard Law School. He was a corporate lawyer for almost forty years, the last sixteen as a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. He and his wife of 54 years have two daughters, five grandchildren and two grand-dogs. He has traveled to Israel perhaps twenty times since his first visit there in 1957, both on organizational business and to visit with his many family members living there.
Phyllis Teicher Goldman
Phyllis has dedicated both her professional career and volunteer work to helping non-profit organizations thrive. In her current role as a principal of G&S Consulting she assists organizations achieve sustainable growth through the implementation of best practices in development, communications, and governance. Previously, Phyllis was the vice president for external affairs at the American Jewish World Service and prior to that was the senior development executive at the New Israel Fund. She was the director of the Westchester Holocaust Commission and has also worked in political fundraising. Phyllis served on the board of directors of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, the Jewish Community Center of Mid– Westchester and many other national and community based organizations. In addition, she was the President of the American Jewish Committee’s Westchester Chapter; and has chaired a number of capital campaigns, both at her synagogue, Bet Am Shalom in White Plains and at the Solomon Schechter School. She holds an MA from the Columbia University School of Social Work and a B.A. from New York University. Phyllis participated in her first Encounter Program in June 2014.
In 2014, after a seven month sabbatical in Israel during which Sally participated in several Encounter programs, she decided to join the Board of Encounter. A graduate of Wellesley College and the Yale School of Management, Sally is an active lay-leader, writer, and consultant in the Jewish community. She is the Co-Founder and Chair of Moving Traditions, an organization that makes Judaism a force for good in people’s lives using a gender lens to explore Jewish learning, ritual and identity among teens. Sally also currently serves on the Board of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City and has previously been on the Boards of the Jewish Funders Network, American Jewish World Service, and The Jewish Women’s Archive. Sally’s articles on philanthropy, Judaism, feminism, and class have been published in a variety of books and newspapers. For nearly two decades Sally consulted to not-for-profit organizations, working both at KPMG Peat Marwick and then with her own firm. She served as the first NY/Tri-State Regional Director of the New Israel Fund, and was the first employee of the Israel Women’s Network in Jerusalem. Sally is also committed to research in Neurofibromatosis (NF-1) and is involved with N-TAP, the Neurofibromatosis Therapeutic Acceleration Program at Johns Hopkins, as well as the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Sally and her partner, Rachel Tiven, have three young children.
Steven M. Jacobson, Co-ChairRaised in a Chicago suburb, Steven M. Jacobson holds degrees from the University of Kansas and Brandeis University and was a Fellow of the Melton Center for Diaspora Jewish Education at Hebrew University where he had the privilege of being in the last class of renowned Torah educator Nechama Leibowitz, just prior to her death.
Steve has been Director of the University of Kansas Hillel Foundation, Project Director for a curricular initiative of the Hornstein Program in Jewish Communal Service at Brandeis University and has been at the Dorot Foundation since 1999, where he is Vice President for Strategy and Director of the Dorot Fellowship in Israel. Additionally, Steve has been a consultant to a variety of Jewish organizations and nascent-stage Jewish initiatives and frequently teaches about the American Jewish institutional infrastructure.
Steve lives in Providence with his wife and two daughters.
David Karnovsky is a member of the Real Estate Department of Fried Frank Harris Jacobson & Shriver in New York, with a practice that focuses on land use, zoning and real estate development. Prior to joining Fried Frank, David Karnovsky served in several capacities in New York City government, including as general counsel to the New York City Department of City Planning from 1999 to 2014. At City Planning, he was closely involved in many of the major land use and development initiatives of the Bloomberg Administration, including the Hudson Yards redevelopment plan and the High Line.
David is a member of the Board of Directors of the Hebrew Free Loan Society and served as President from 2011–2014. He has also served as a member of the Board of Directors of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan. In the fall of 2011, while a fellow of the American Academy in Jerusalem, David participated in an Encounter trip to Bethlehem, which he considers a formative experience in his understanding of the conflict.
Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen
As Rabbi for Communal Engagement at Central Synagogue, Rabbi Lev-Cohen teaches classes in Jewish learning for adults, leads pastoral groups, as well as affinity groups. Her work aims at building and deepening networks of friendships and community within the congregation. This past year, together with Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Rabbi Lev-Cohen started a pilot group at Central Synagogue called “Wise Aging.”
Over the past decade, Rabbi Lev-Cohen served on numerous boards and chaired committees, including UJA/Federation, the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and American Jewish World Service. She currently serves on the boards of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, and the Israel Policy Forum.
A psychotherapist by profession, Rabbi Lev-Cohen ran the graduate training program for social work students at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and was an instructor at the B.U. School of Social Work. She is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Foundation program. A mother of two, she resides with her husband Steven M. Cohen in New York and Jerusalem.
Ephraim Pelcovits is the rabbi of Or Olam, a diverse and multigenerational congregation in Midtown Manhattan. At the synagogue, Ephraim has spearhead numerous institutional partnerships for worship and educational programing with other New York congregations and cultural institutions. He was ordained by JTS, where he was a Legacy Heritage Fund Rabbinic Fellow and a Neubauer Family Fellow. Prior to his ordination, he received an M.A. in Talmud and Rabbinics, studied in Israel at Yeshivat Sha’arei Mevaseret Zion and at Machon Schechter, served as a commissioned lieutenant and chaplain candidate in the United States Navy Reserve, and as a student chaplain at Bellevue Hospital. Encounter has been a transformative and critical part of Ephraim’s life since the first trip he took to Bethlehem in the autumn of 2007. He is married to Rachel Weber, an artist and doula, and they are blessed with two sons, Alexander and Lev.
Daniel Septimus is Executive Director of The Sefaria Project, an organization launched in 2013 to create digital infrastructure for the future of Jewish text study, commentary, and conversation. Previously, he served as CEO of MyJewishLearning, Inc., publisher of MyJewishLearning.com, Kveller.com, and Jewniverse. Daniel was a co-founder of Altshul, an independent minyan in Brooklyn, and is on the Board of Directors of The Luria Academy of Brooklyn. Daniel has studied at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Manchester, and Yeshivat Har Etzion.
Julie Shaffer, Co-Chair
Julie Shaffer is the Executive Director of the Oreg Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. She has been involved in Colorado’s non-profit world as a professional and lay leader for 20 years. Julie is the Chair of the Board of Joshua Venture Group and a member of the Board of Directors at Judaism Your Way. She also serves on the Building and Capital Campaign Committees of the Boulder JCC and the Advisory Committee of Post Holocaust American Judaism at the University of Colorado, and is active as a partner in Social Venture Partners of Boulder County. Julie was a founding board member of the Boulder Jewish Community Foundation and was honored by them for her dedication and extraordinary work in the Boulder Jewish Community. Julie and her husband, Bruce, raised their three kids in Boulder and now spend time in both their Boulder and Jerusalem homes.