Aaron Press Taylor is from Spokane, WA and, after earning an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Sociology with a minor in Judaic Studies, from Brandeis University, he returned to his hometown. Aaron completed an Americorps term as Construction Associate/Team Leader with Habitat for Humanity-Spokane and later worked as a direct care provider for teenagers with developmental disabilities, and managed Twin Owls Garden, a local food project of non-profit Community Solutions Northwest. Most recently, Aaron served as Habitat-Spokane’s Family Services Manager, working on family recruitment, homeowner association development, mortgage processing, pre-purchase homeowner education, and organizational collaboration between affordable housing providers.
Aaron has long been active in his local Jewish communities as songleader and educator and has visited Israel and Palestine over ten times for conferences, education, volunteering and leisure. While at Brandies, Aaron contributed to the campus newspaper, The Justice, and advocated for collaboration between different student groups on issues of Israel and Palestine. Academically, Aaron focused on German Jewish Thought and Philosophy of History.
Summer camp is among Aaron’s greatest passions; he worked at URJ Camp Harlam for eight consecutive summers in the capacities of Head Songleader, Cabin Counselor and Unit Supervisor and will serve as one of the Assistant Directors at Camp Rising Sun, Rhinbeck, NY, in the summer of 2014. Aaron is very excited to be a part of the NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowship.”
Abby Kolker is from Baltimore, MD. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Urban Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Gender Studies. After college, she moved to Tel Aviv and interned at MESILA Aid, the Information Center for the Foreign Community in Tel Aviv, the African Refugee Development Center, and the Adva Center, a social justice think tank. In 2010-2011, Abby participated in the Dorot Fellowship in Israel and the PresenTense Fellowship.
With the support of these programs, she co-founded Progressive Activism and Volunteering in Israel (PAVI), a website that connects English-speaking students and young professionals with volunteer and advocacy opportunities in Israel, while promoting the state’s leading civil society organizations.
Abby is currently pursuing her PhD in Sociology, with a certificate in Women’s Studies, at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. She is also a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Hunter College. Her dissertation is a comparative study of migrant workers in Tel Aviv and New York. In her free time, Abby enjoys theater, foreign film, city wandering, yoga, pilates, and running; she is currently training for her first half-marathon.
Harris Engelmann was born into a progressive family with Israeli roots and raised in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware within a small Jewish community that emphasized social justice and support of Israel. His Jewish identity was strengthened by summers at Jewish camps and by his extensive involvement in BBYO, which trained him in pro-Israel activism and the power of organizing in a Jewish context. Time spent in Israel on a family trip and on the BBYO Euro-Israel seminar connected him to the country and its people.
Harris went on to study German Literature and International Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, immersing himself in international politics and cultures. A semester-long stay at Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany led him to write a research thesis on youth media and culture in East Germany before he graduated in May, 2013. During his time at Wash U, he was exposed to a variety of new and challenging viewpoints on Israel and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading him ultimately to J Street U, where he spent two years organizing and building his local campus chapter and where he served as a member of the organization’s national leadership.
His commitment to a more tolerant and open Israel led him to intern for J Street’s Education Fund in the summer of 2013. It also led him to the Yahel Social Change program in Israel, where he spent this past year tutoring English, working on community agriculture projects, working with at-risk youth, and learning about social change in Israel while living in a socio-economically challenged Ethiopian-Israeli neighborhood in the small town of Gedera and interning for a grassroots non-profit. In his free time, Harris enjoys listening to music, reading, learning languages, discussing politics, and exploring the many layers and diversities of Israel and the West Bank. He looks forward to actively bringing about social change in Israel through the NIF and Shatil and to meeting his fellowship cohort!
Isaac Kates Rose (Canadian Fellow) is grateful for the opportunity to pursue justice as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow, and looks forward to a year of growth, giving, and endless inspiration from his fellow fellows. Isaac was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, the 3rd of 6 children in a loving and lively household. In this warm environment nestled in this cold city, he developed a deep connection to Judaism’s values, a deep belief in Israel’s potential, and a deep sense of responsibility to the people and peoples he has encountered along the way.
Along that way, he has been a leader in several different contexts: he was transformed by his early years at Camp Shomria; and he has been an educator in Hashomer Hatzair Canada for the past 7 years, serving this past year as a National Director of the movement. In the summer of 2012, he facilitated a program for Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian teenagers in Eastern Ontario, empowering them to work together towards a shared Israeli society. On campus, he was an active under Hillel’s roof, striving to create safe space and build bridges as an “Ask Big Questions” fellow, and helped found the young adult contingency of J Space Canada. Isaac graduated from the University of Toronto in the spring of 2014 with high distinction, completing a Specialist Honors degree in Jewish Studies and a double-minor in Cinema Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations.
In 2012-2013, his questions and commitment led him to Jerusalem, where he spent the year learning at the Hebrew University as a recipient of the Coburn Award. While there, he contributed to the formation of the anti-Occupation collective All That’s Left; he coordinated Lehagshim, a new two-week exploration of Israel and Palestine for university-aged Diaspora Jews; and got his hands dirty volunteering in Jerusalem’s community gardens. Like the music he makes in his free time, Isaac believes the best work comes out of collaboration. As such, he is excited to whistle while he works with the 2014-2015 cohort towards a just, peaceful Israel.
Leah Platkin grew up in Los Angeles, in a progressive Jewish community with Israeli and American parents. She developed a deep connection to Israeli culture through many summer visits with her Israeli Orthodox and secular family. She attended a Jewish day school, was involved in NFTY, and graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies. One course, “Gender in the Arab World,” made her aware of the similarities and differences between Arabs and Israelis in a life-changing way. It impacted her commitment to social justice and interest in the oppression of women in insular religious communities, particularly in the Middle East. When working for a women’s contemporary designer in New York City, Leah realized she was far more concerned with the oppressive conditions of women manufacturing the garments than those wearing them.
Leah then attended Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work and completed her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in 2012. As a Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Victim Services Unit intern, she worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In this capacity she treated many clients from Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. Drawing from her field work, academic research, and interest in women in insular religious communities, Leah wrote her thesis on, “Domestic Violence in Orthodox Jewish and Muslim American Communities in the United States: A Comparative Analysis.”
Since 2012, Leah has worked at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn. Her fluency in Hebrew, cultural sensitivity, and clinical skills helped her provide family treatment to primarily Orthodox Jewish families with a history of child abuse and domestic violence. These experiences, specifically her work with undocumented Israeli immigrant families, have been a driving force in her goal to improve the availability and quality of services for marginalized communities. Leah is thrilled to join NIF/Shatil as a Social Justice Fellow. She is eager to learn about Israel’s cutting edge treatment approaches for domestic violence and how to work with hard to reach communities in need of support services.
Rena Oppenheimer is from Boston, MA and studied anthropology and Arabic at Tufts University. Rena attended Jewish day school from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and while in high school had the transformative opportunity to participate in Seeds of Peace’s international camp—where she befriended Jewish and Arab Israeli delegates and began her journey to understand the lived experience of the conflict for all those affected by it. Rena also studied abroad in Israel through her high school’s program at Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon.
During her time in college, Rena cultivated an interest in public health by conducting research on community-based health insurance in Cambodia and collecting narratives on abortion legislation and the state in South Africa. Rena served as program leader of a student-run international development group at Tufts and worked collaboratively with an NGO and a village in southern India to design and implement sustainable projects. Through her work with this student group, Rena was a recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace Award. Rena also spent a semester in Jordan on an immersive study abroad program.
Since graduating from college last May, Rena has been working as a case manager to clients with severe mental illness (mostly Arabs and Hasidic Jews) at a social services agency in Brooklyn, New York. Rena is thrilled to be a part of the fellowship and looks forward to a year of exploration, growth, and service.
Sarah Cassel grew up in Boston, where she attended the Maimonides Jewish Day School. After graduating high school, she participated in Mechinat Beit Yisrael, an Israeli pre-military preparation program that blends religious and secular studies with education-oriented community service. Sarah then attended Wesleyan University, where she double-majored in Philosophy and Political Science. During her last year at Wesleyan, Sarah volunteered as a writing tutor in Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education in a men’s maximum-security prison, which has propelled her to work in the field of prison reform and rehabilitation to end mass incarceration.
After graduating, Sarah served in Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps in New York City, working as a Community Intake Advocate at The Bronx Defenders. While living in New York, Sarah also volunteered with the Homebound Leadership Institute, a leadership development and empowerment organization for young men of color, and Young New Yorkers, an alternative sentencing program for adolescents in Brooklyn.
Sarah is particularly interested in the field of violence prevention, focusing on how the formation and perpetuation of gender, racial, and ethnic identities contribute to domestic and international violent conflicts. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to build on her US-based understandings of violence in the Israeli context through the NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowship.
Shifra Sered was born in Jerusalem and is excited to return to Israel as a Shatil Fellow after 16 years of living in the US! She cannot think of a more fitting homecoming than as a social justice advocate and agent of social change. Shifra attended a Jewish day school in Massachusetts where she was taught to question what it means to be Jewish and belong to a Jewish community.
At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she found her voice as an activist through her work with student groups fighting for gender equity. She helped found the Coalition to End Rape Culture, which raises campus and community awareness of rape culture and worked to re-frame sexual assault as a result of our patriarchal, racist and homophobic culture. Working as part of a progressive community at UMass forced Shifra to re-examine her distance when it came to inequality and human rights violations in Israel. She began to struggle with her identity as a Jewish Israeli-American and she eventually came to embrace the contradictions and ambiguities of her intersecting identities.
Shifra currently serves as a North Carolina Campus Compact AmeriCorps Vista in Eastern North Carolina, where she builds the capacity of a non-profit community center that aims to provide an arts-focused after-school program in a low-income community and encourages students and campus professionals to engage with the community. She is excited to bring her passion for justice and gender equity to her placement site in Israel.
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To read the bios from the 2013-2014 cohort of NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellows, click here.
To read the bios from the 2012-2013 cohort of NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellows, click here.