Staff & Board

Executive Director
North America Team
Middle East Team
Current Interns
Board of Directors
Directors Emeritus

Encounter’s Executive Director

  • Yona Shem-Tov

    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”.

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Encounter’s North America Team

  • Rebecca Polivy

    Rebecca Polivy, Director of Programming

    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 Manager

    Leah 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

    Rakhel Shapiro, Grant Writer and Foundation Relations

    Rakhel 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.

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Encounter’s Middle East Team

  • Heidi Rosbe

    Heidi Rosbe, Deputy Director

    Heidi 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

    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

    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.

  • Ari_Brickman_cropped2

    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.

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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.

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Board of Directors

  • Shana Tabak

    Shana Tabak, Chair

    Shana 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 Jacobson

    Steven M. Jacobson

    Raised 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.

  • Marion Lev-Cohen

    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

    Daniel Septimus

    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

    Julie Shaffer

    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.

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Directors Emeritus

  • Rabbi Melissa Weintraub

    Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Co-Founder, former Co-Executive Director

    Rabbi 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.
  • Ilana Sumka

    Ilana Sumka, former Co-Executive Director

    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.

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Our Mission

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.

Moti­vated by the relent­less Jew­ish pur­suit of hokhma (wis­dom) and binah (under­stand­ing), Encounter cul­ti­vates informed Jew­ish lead­er­ship on the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict by bring­ing…

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