Staff & Board
Encounter’s Executive Director
Yona Shem-Tov, Executive Director
Yona joined the Encounter team as Executive Director in 2011.
Before coming to Encounter, Yona pursued doctoral work at New York University as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, where her research focused on citizenship and history education in Jewish and Muslim-American schools. She has worked and consulted for a broad range of American Jewish organizations, including American Jewish World Service, Mayan, Matan, RAVSAK, and Abraham’s Vision, where she taught at both the AJ Heschel School and the Al-Iman School in Queens, NY.
As a consultant to the Edmond & Benjamin Rothschild Foundation, Yona helped envision and launch The Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, a network of Jewish and Muslim social entrepreneurs in France, the UK and USA. She also co-created Re/Presenting the Jewish Past, a network of Jewish history educators from across Canada and the USA, where she served as Associate Director.
She is a noted public speaker, having presented on Israel and intercultural education before The Congress of Imams & Rabbis in Seville, the German Consul General and members of German Parliament in Berlin. As someone who grew up in a home of “rich cultural complexity where Hebrew, Arabic, Polish and English intermingled and seamlessly intertwined” — her mother survived the Holocaust as a child in Europe and her father was born in Iraq — Yona brings to Encounter an exceptional capacity to guide and inspire communities to extend themselves across lines of difference.
As Yona herself noted recently: “Encounter is the organizational embodiment of my most deeply held values. I am deeply honored to grow the impact of one of the most effective forces for creating inclusive and compelling Israel engagement strategies for the North American Jewish community and for helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
Encounter’s North America Team
Rebecca has extensive experience working in not for profit organizations whose mission is to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attempt to transform relationships between different population groups. She has worked for Encounter for 4 years, serving as the Middle East Director before transitioning to her current role of Director of Programming. Rebecca began her career in Conflict Transformation in 2006 when she moved to Jerusalem. Prior to Encounter, she held positions at The Abraham Fund Initiatives, Search for Common Ground, Breaking the Silence and Ultimate Peace. In these positions she contributed to the design and implementation of a number of programs that emphasized sports, social entrepreneurship, print and television media, as well as face to face interactions as tools for transforming conflict. Out of a passion for the game, and recognition of its unique contribution to the field of peace building, Rebecca helped establish the sport of Ultimate Frisbee in Israel and the West Bank by forming and leading a group of volunteer trainers and coaching youth teams herself. Rebecca was a PresenTense Fellow in 2009, holds a Masters in Conflict Transformation and Intercultural Organizational Leadership from the School for International Training in Vermont, and a Bachelors in Comparative Religion and Economics from the University of Rochester. She currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and son.
Leah Spigelman, Operations ManagerLeah holds a master’s degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy with concentrations in human security and international negotiation and conflict resolution, and a BA in political science from Vassar College. She brings extensive training in conflict-sensitive development and peacebuilding, and has studied conflict transformation in both Cyprus and Israel. Leah has managed grants for human rights, development, and humanitarian relief programing across Africa, at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and American Jewish World Service (AJWS). In 2009, she co-managed the Liberia Peacebuilding Fund on behalf of the Government of Liberia and in collaboration with the United Nations Mission in Liberia. She has also provided research and editing support at the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) in Thailand and for WITNESS. Her work with the American Jewish community includes two years of assisting in the management of service-learning programs throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Leah speaks basic conversational Hebrew.
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.
Encounter’s Middle East Team
Heidi Rosbe, Deputy DirectorHeidi holds a Master of International Affairs degree (2010), focused on Human Rights, Conflict Transformation and Gender Policy, from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). From 2005–2008, she 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 New York, Montreal, Michigan, Cyprus, Syria and the West Bank, aiming to create social change through interpersonal dialogue, leadership, media and the arts. 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 also volunteers as a facilitator for Project Common Bond and facilitation trainer for Soliya. She speaks some Arabic, French, and Spanish.
Melanie Landau, Davar Acher: Leadership Program Director
From 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.
Shani Rosenbaum, Middle East Program Coordinator
Shani Rosenbaum received her BA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 2012. Her interest in the intersections of Judaism, Zionism and social justice led her to internships at Jerusalem-based Bema’aglei Tzedek, where she promoted grass-roots, Jewish-inspired social justice initiatives; and Tel Aviv’s Hotline for Migrant Workers, where she advocated for migrant workers and asylum seekers. Shani is an alumna of Encounter’s Advanced Leadership Seminar, which she joined during her year as a Dorot Fellow. Through Dorot, Shani also studied Talmud and Arabic, taught English to asylum seekers, and hiked portions of the Israel Trail.
Ariel Brickman, Operations and Program Officer
Ariel graduated cum laude from the Joint Program between between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University with a BA in Modern Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies in 2013. Her interest in the Jewish-American community’s engagement with Israel led her to intern at the Israeli Consulate of New York, as well as to oversee Israel-related programming on Columbia’s campus as Israel Coordinator. As Israel Coordinator, she 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.
Encounter’s Current Interns and Volunteers
Alex Salzberg, Program Intern
Alex Salzberg is a rising senior rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He holds a Masters Degree in Jewish Education from Towson University and BA from the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University. He has spent time in Israel on a variety of educational and experiential programs, including a gap-year with Young Judaea. He has also spent a semester studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo. He is excited to bring together his passion for the Jewish people and Middle East society and culture through his work with Encounter this summer.
Board of Directors
Shana Tabak, ChairShana Tabak is a Practitioner-in-Residence with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law, where she teaches human rights law and supervises students in human rights litigation at international and domestic judicial bodies. Previously she taught at George Washington Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and served as a law clerk at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands. She graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a Public Interest Law Scholar and was awarded the Bettina Pruckmayr Award for excellence in International Human Rights. While a law student, Shana worked with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Tahirih Justice Center, the Iraq office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the law firm Foley Hoag. Prior to receiving her degree in law, Shana worked in human rights for several years with organizations including: the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York, and Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement in Israel. She was a Fulbright scholar in Bolivia in 2002 and a Dorot fellow in Israel in 2004. Her academic and professional interests include international human rights, transitional justice and immigration and refugee rights. She served as the volunteer director to Encounter in 2005–2006 in Jerusalem, and is one of the organization’s founding Board members.
Steven M. JacobsonRaised 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.
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.
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 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.
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Co-Founder, former Co-Executive DirectorRabbi Melissa Weintraub is a social entrepreneur, educator, and thought leader who trains leaders and builds programs at the intersections of Israel, Jewish thought and conflict resolution. Among other projects, Melissa is currently spearheading the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ new national Civility Initiative, working to transform communal norms around Israel and other charged issues from tension and avoidance to productive deliberation across political divides. Melissa was the founding director of Encounter, an organization dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the Jewish people to be agents of change in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Melissa helped build Encounter from the ground up to an internationally recognized organization, and was awarded the Grinnell Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize honoring individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary accomplishment in effecting social change. Melissa has lectured and taught in hundreds of Jewish communal institutions, universities, and prestigious forums, and is a faculty member for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. She was ordained as a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University.
Prior to her five year tenure at Encounter as Co-Executive Director, Ilana worked as a Technical Assistance Officer at the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). During that time, Ilana managed a program of Jewish professional volunteers providing capacity building assistance to NGOs in Africa and Asia. A consultant to non-profits and former director of numerous electoral and legislative campaigns, Ilana has also served as a nonpartisan international election monitor in Bosnia and Albania under the auspices of OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In addition, Ilana worked for a number of years at the grassroots level in community political and labor organizing, winning numerous legislative and electoral campaigns in the US. An honors graduate of Wesleyan University and a recipient of the Dorot Fellowship in Israel, Ilana lived in Nairobi, Kenya for four years where she founded and led a community service organization teaching in a local middle school.