Staff & Board
Encounter’s Staff Team
Ariel Brickman, Operations and Program Officer
Ariel 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.
Melanie Landau, Facilitation 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.
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. Prior to Encounter, Rebecca worked at The Abraham Fund Initiatives, Search for Common Ground, Breaking the Silence and Ultimate Peace. In these positions she contributed to the design and implmentation 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. Rebecca was a PresenTense Fellow in 2009, holds a Masters in Conflict Transformation and Intercultural Organizational Leadership & Management from the School for International Training in Vermont, and a Bachelors in Comparative Religion and Economics from the University of Rochester.
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.
Shani Rosenbaum, Middle East Program Coordinator
Shani Rosenbaum joined the Encounter team in 2013. She holds a BA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, and 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, explored traditional rabbinic models of conflict transformation, taught English to asylum seekers, and hiked portions of the Israel Trail. Her interest in the intersection of Jewish tradition, sovereignty, and social justice has previously led her to work with a number of Israeli NGOs, including Jerusalem-based Bema’aglei Tzedek, where she promoted grassroots, Jewish-inspired social justice initiatives, and Tel Aviv’s Hotline for Migrants and Refugees, where she advocated for migrant workers and asylum seekers.
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.
Yona Shem-Tov, Executive Director
Yona 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 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.
Encounter’s Current Interns and Volunteers
Mimi Kaplan, Programs and Development Intern
Mimi Kaplan is in her senior year in the joint program between The Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University where she is studying Midrash and Sustainable Development. At university, she has been involved with Peace by P.E.A.C.E, a student group that works with local elementary and middle school students in the New York City public schools on non-violent conflict resolution. Last Spring (2014), she spent the semester at The Arava Institute for Environmental studies, a program on Kibbutz Ketura. Here, her classmates were other internationals, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. The program gave her first-hand experience with the region’s conflicting historical narratives, helped her understand the critical importance of attentive listening, and deepened her interest in pursuing American work in the field of Israeli-Arab relations.
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. He has been a member of the Board of Federation Employment and Guidance Service and its Executive Committee for many years. FEGS provides a wide range of social services to enable its clients to reach their potential and live a dignified life.
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.
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.
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.
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.