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
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 coach for Soliya. She speaks some Arabic, French, and Spanish.
Rakhel Shapiro, Development and Communications AssociateRakhel 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.
Daniel Silberbusch, Interim Director of Education & OutreachDaniel has recently returned to New York and rejoined the Encounter staff. For the last five years he served as Encounter’s Jerusalem-based Facilitation Director while also teaching at several Jerusalem institutions: Yakar, Kivunim, the Conservative Yeshiva, Nesiya and Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. In 2005, Daniel was awarded a Dorot Fellowship. He subsequently joined the Encounter staff in 2006. Prior to his arrival in Israel, Daniel served as Director of 9/11 Long-term Recovery and Victim Advocacy for New York Disaster Interfaith Services. He has been an affiliated member of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, having completed his chaplaincy residency at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn and his Master of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary. Co-editor of Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience: Integrated Care in Disaster Relief Work, Daniel is presently writing a book about Israel and a book of short stories about New York.
Encounter’s Middle East Team
Rebecca Polivy, Director-Middle East
After completing a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation from the School for International Training in VT, Rebecca moved to Jerusalem in 2006. Prior to joining the Encounter team, Rebecca served as the Program Associate at Search for Common Ground-Jerusalem. Currently, Rebecca also contributes to the development of the sport of Ultimate Frisbee in Israel and the West Bank by acting as the Intercultural Communications Consultant for Ultimate Peace, coaching youth teams and co-coordinating monthly Ultimate Frisbee tournaments in Tel Aviv.
Amy Pearlman, Program Coordinator
After graduating magna cum laude from Cornell University in 2009, Amy spent the past year at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Learning in Jerusalem. At Cornell, Amy served as Hillel President, founded a Jewish-Muslim dialogue, founded a Hillel-Black Student Union Katrina Initiative, and was awarded the 2009 Harrop and Ruth Freeman Prize in Peace Studies.
Jessica Kate Meyer, Advanced Leadership Coordinator
In the summer of 2012, Jessica completed her fourth year of rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Boston as a Wexner fellow. After graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, Jessica moved to Tel Aviv to intern with the League for the Arabs of Jaffa and with the Palestinian Israeli/Jewish Israeli theater company Peace Child. She pursued graduate theater training in London, and appeared in many film, theater, and television projects in Europe and the United States, most notably in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. While living in Boston as a rabbinical student, she developed family education programs, and served as a Jewish music specialist for area synagogues. She continues to perform as a storyteller and singer.
Jenn Gold, Middle East Operations and Program Officer
Jenn holds an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the Hebrew University and a BS in Kinesiology with a focus on Athletic Training from California State University. Prior to coming to Jerusalem in 2010, Jenn served as the Volunteer Program Supervisor at the Long Beach Rescue Mission for four years. As an intern with Encounter, Jenn developed Encounter’s Middle East volunteer and internship program. She is now delighted to be part of the Encounter staff as Middle East Operations and Program Officer.
Encounter’s Current Interns and Volunteers
Jen Brown, Administrative and Programming Intern
Jen Brown is from Brooklyn, New York, and is a recent graduate of Grinnell College, where she majored in Chinese. Jen has done extensive research and written a thesis on Jewish Diaspora communities in China and on the Kaifeng Jewish community in China. Her research largely concerned how Jewish Diaspora communities maintain their ethnic boundaries and community cohesion. Jen became acquainted with Encounter when she met Rabbi Melissa Weintraub at the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize award week and was so inspired she applied to intern at Encounter. Outside of Encounter, Jen teaches English to adult language learners in Brooklyn. Jen is fluent in Chinese and proficient in Arabic, Danish and Hebrew.
Steve Cucharo, Development and Communications Intern
Steve Cucharo is currently a graduate student at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, completing his MS in Global Affairs with a focus on peacebuilding. While completing his BA in Political Science at Fordham University, he became interested in peace theory, civil wars, as well as the development of mass movements as a tool for social change. As a result of studies, personal interest and his participation in Project Common Bond, an annual peacebuilding symposium which brings together international victims of terrorism, he began to focus his studies on the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He became inspired to join the Encounter team after learning about the organization’s commitment to peacebuilding on a person-to-person level, and the dedication of its staff to the development of concrete peacebuilding initiatives on the ground. Steve speaks German as a result of undergraduate coursework and his studies in Berlin, Germany. He also speaks Spanish at the intermediate level.
Christopher Jenkins, Senior Program and Administrative Assistant (Intern)
In 2011, Chris graduated from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia with a Masters of International Affairs, focusing on the study of human rights and conflict resolution, particularly in relation to the conflict in Afghanistan and military action in Pakistan’s FATA/NWFP. A professional musician, he has traveled to perform in Pakistan with the NGO Cultures in Harmony, and taught music students in China and South Africa. In conjunction with Columbia University Professor of Psychology Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, he recently co-authored a book chapter focusing on the intersection of multiculturalism and politics in the United States and abroad.
Board of Directors
Shana Tabak, ChairShana Tabak is a Practitioner-in-Residence with the International Human Rights Law Clinic, 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.
Iris has been active in Atlanta’s Jewish community for the last 20 years. She has held many different campaign and planning positions within the Jewish community including Atlanta Federation Annual Campaign Chair 2008 and Chair of the Endowment Board for 2005–2007. Her national involvement includes Co-Chair of National Young Leadership for United Jewish Communities 2003–2004 and National Training Chair for the 2005–2006 UJC National Campaigns. Her international involvement includes being a member of the Board of Governors for the Jewish Agency for Israel as well as co-chairing their Partnerships Committee and chairing their NextGen committee. In addition to her Federation work, she has been actively involved in her children’s schools, The Epstein School and The Paideia School. She is the recipient of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Abe Schwartz Young Leadership Award and Gerald H. Cohen Community Award and was awarded the Israel Bonds’ Star of David Community Award. She has been an active volunteer with The Posse Foundation, Junior Achievement, and JDub Records.Feinberg was the owner and President of The Trillium Group, Ltd., a medical claims processing company headquartered in Decatur, and owner of Chew on This, LLC, a company that specializes in investment in small, women-owned businesses. In addition, she is the co-owner of a cookbook publishing company. A graduate of The Wharton School and Temple University, she is a recognized expert in both teleworking and health care administration. Iris is completed her MA in Applied Linguistics with a focus on Health Literacy. Iris and her husband, Bruce live in Atlanta and have four children — Jonathon, Michael, Rachel and Daniel.
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.
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.
Rabbi Miriam Margles, Co-FounderMiriam is an artist, educator and activist, currently living and working in Toronto’s Jewish community. Integrating Jewish learning, community building, and creative exploration through music, movement, and writing, Miriam facilitates workshops with various populations, including communities in conflict, women in prison, Israeli agunot (Jewish women denied a divorce by their husbands) and the next generation. A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Miriam previously served as the Associate Rabbi at Kehillat Lev Shalem in Woodstock, New York. A composer of original liturgical music as well as a published poet, Miriam has worked with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, TOVA Artistic Projects for Social Change, and The Nesiya Institute. Miriam is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Jerusalem Fellows at the Mandel Leadership Institute. She holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing from York University.
Daniel is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of MyJewishLearning, Inc., a not-for-profit web publisher that educates and engages hundreds of thousands of people each month. Daniel is the founder of Kveller.com, MJL’s parenting website, and was a founding editor of MyJewishLearning.com. He was, for several years, the Books columnist for the Jerusalem Post, and the host of the 92nd Street Y’s “Jewish Literary Exchange,” a series of open interviews with prominent authors. Daniel has written and lectured widely on Judaism and contemporary issues, particularly the intersection of technology and Jewish life. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Altshul, an independent minyan in Brooklyn. Daniel has studied at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Manchester, and Yeshivat Har Etzion.
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Co-Founder, former Co-Executive DirectorMelissa co-founded Encounter in 2005 and served as Co-Executive Director until 2011. Melissa was ordained as a Conservative Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary and has represented the Seminary as a Rabbinic Fellow in Conservative communities throughout North America. She builds on twelve years of experience in Middle East people-to-people efforts, and is the author of several articles treating the subjects of war ethics in Jewish sources. A noted speaker and Jewish educator, Melissa has taught in prestigious venues on four continents. An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, she graduated from Harvard University with a summa cum laude degree in Political Theory. Her recent publications include: “Warriors, Prophets, Peacemakers, and Disciples: A Call to Action in the Face of Religious-Inspired Violence,” (in Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice) and “Torture and Torah: Human Dignity and Self-Defense in Jewish Law” (in Torture Is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and People of Conscience Speak Out). A recipient of a Samuel Ruben Foundation grant, Melissa is currently working on a book exploring Jewish religious responses to terror.
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.