New York, NY; November 8, 2018 - To strengthen the leadership of Reform Jewish communities throughout North America, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is investing in 13 individuals as participants in the JewV’Nation Fellowship’s LGBTQIA+ Leadership Cohort. This program focuses on strengthening Reform Judaism by increasing opportunities for Reform Jewish communities to learn from and be led by Jewish leaders who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Approximately ten percent of the North American Jewish community identify as LGBTQIA+ Jews, and this number is only growing. LGBTQIA+ is an umbrella term encompassing a diverse group of people from a variety of sexual and gender identities, including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and pansexual people.
Fellows in the JewV’Nation LGBTQIA+ Leadership Cohort will lead in creating vibrant, innovative projects that directly incorporate wisdom, experiences, and vision of LGBTQIA+ Jews. URJ resources, executive leaders, and support strategies will help bring the best ideas to life for URJ congregations, camps, communities, college campuses, and Reform Jewish groups. Past projects have included developing board trainings, community building/outreach initiatives, trainings for religious school educators and young professionals, and focused communications initiatives.
The Fellows bring a deep and broad level of experience as congregational professionals, clergy, educators, board members, alumni of URJ camps and programs, and leaders across Reform Jewish communities.
The JewV'Nation Fellowship is led by Program Manager Rachel Hall in partnership with April Baskin, URJ’s Vice President of Audacious Hospitality, who was named a “Faith Leader to Watch” by the Center for American Progress.
Initially launched in 2017, the JewV’Nation Fellowship is a leadership development program and project incubator. The current Fellowship participants in the JewV’Nation Jews of Color Leadership Cohort are successfully launching initiatives to create communities that fully reflect the reality of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic Jewish community. In its first year, the Fellowship’s projects focused on creative interfaith outreach initiatives leading to a more broadly diverse, inclusive, and aware Jewish community.
“These Fellows – like the previous JewV’Nation cohorts – are ambitious, reflective leaders who are passionate about building an inclusive Jewish community,” said Baskin. “We know that Jewish communities are enriched when all people are equipped not only to participate, but to lead. Our brightest possible Jewish future requires that individual Jews and their loved ones are included, not despite their diversity and interests, but because of them.”
The Fellows will engage in nine months of cutting-edge seminars focusing on identity enrichment, leadership development, Jewish learning, movement-building, mentorship, and ground-breaking project work.
By cultivating Fellowship participants as Reform leaders, the URJ is developing another pipeline for future HUC-JIR students, lay leadership, and staff within the URJ’s network of camps, communities, and congregations, similar to NFTY and the L’Taken Social Justice Seminars.
As part of URJ’s 2020 Vision, Audacious Hospitality is a transformative spiritual practice rooted in the belief that we will be a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community when we fully welcome and incorporate the diversity that is the reality of modern Jewish life. The JewV’Nation Fellowship is grounded in the six Jewish values that represent Audacious Hospitality’s guiding principles, including honor (kavod), watchfulness (zehirut), and open tent (ohel patuach).
The JewV’Nation Fellowship has been proudly funded by a grant from the Leichtag Foundation, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, and a generous URJ donor in collaboration with the Jewish Funders Network. This specific cohort is also made possible by a generous grant by an anonymous donor.
The 2018-2019 URJ JewV’Nation Fellows are:
|Max Antman completed his B.A. in Political Science at the University of Illinois in 2015 and quickly began a career in politics and community organizing. After working in the Illinois House of Representatives, Max moved to Washington. D.C. for a job at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism where he focused on LGBTQIA+ inclusion and immigrant justice. Max is currently a grassroots organizer at the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets Campaign, the world’s largest grassroots campaign to combat malaria. In his free time, Max can be found teaching religious school at Temple Sinai in Washington D.C.
|Dina Baron (she/her) is a prospective rabbinical student and a current undergraduate studying Social and Cultural Analysis with a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. She is passionate about cooking, music, activism, and Judaism. Dina is active in her school’s Hillel, where she has found a second family.
|Emily Benoit currently lives in Portland, OR where she works for the City of Portland on housing related programs and policies. She is involved at Congregation Kol Ami in Vancouver, WA where she also volunteers with many different aspects of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. She enjoys exploring her new city and meeting new people daily.
|James Collins (they/them) is a lifelong educator, public servant, and storyteller. They previously led game-based education and ed tech policy initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Learning and Digital Access and later at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. James currently teaches Computer Science and game design at Hathaway Brown, an all-girls’ school in Cleveland, Ohio, and builds public/private partnerships for the award-winning team at FableVision Studios. James also runs a monthly Trans+Education newsletter, co-founded the first federal Climate Change Game Jam, led the Equity team for the White House’s National Maker Faire, and is currently in the process of completing their conversion to Judaism at Suburban Temple - Kol Ami in Cleveland.
|Caroline Dorn (she/her) is an alumna of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. After graduation, she moved to Boston and began working at Temple Shalom in Newton, where she is honored to support inclusion in all aspects of Jewish life. In her free time, Caroline runs queer and Jewish programming for 20’s and 30’s out of Temple Israel of Boston, which she fondly calls “extracurricular Judaism.”
|Denis Victorovich Kurmanov was born in 1992 in Chisinau, Moldova. He moved to the United States with his parents from the help of HIAS and the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. Denis studied philosophy and religious studies at university before entering into workforce as a bartender. Denis is president of IndyChai, the young professional auxiliary at his local temple in Indy, enjoys continuing philosophical inquiry, poetry composition, and the couple of kitties he has at home.
|Dara Lithwick is passionate about all things Jewish – the religion, the culture, the food, and the people. When not working as a lawyer in Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, she is pursuing part time rabbinical studies through Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Dara loves learning and teaching about law, Torah, and more. She is actively involved at Temple Israel Ottawa, leading family services and adult education programs, and hosting Shabbat, holiday, and havdalah gatherings at her home. Dara previously served on Temple Israel’s Executive team and on its social action committee. She and her partner love chasing their two children around Ottawa.
|Elias Rubin (they/them) is an artist based in New York City. They participated NFTY-The Reform Jewish Youth Movement in high school and is so excited to jump back into the world of Jewish leadership! Elias graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, with a BFA in Drama. They are passionate about creating art that makes a difference in the world around them, and does what they can to support young, queer artists.
|Dayne Samuels (they/them) is a young, queer Jewish professional from Southern California. They recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies and dreams of being a Reform rabbi in the near future. Dayne has a background in both Jewish leadership through NFTY, Hillel International and Keshet, and Interfaith leadership experience in progressive Christian spaces.
|Morgan Selkirk, a native New Yorker living outside of Philadelphia, is a mother, artist and LGBTQ Activist. She serves on the board of Congregation Kol Ami where she also chairs the LGBTQ Inclusion Initiative. The initiative won a 2017 Belin Award for the area conference that Morgan co-chaired with a fellow congregant on inclusion of Transgender Jews in the Mishkan. Morgan has worked for almost 20 years in Equal Rights activism. Her family is her driving force; she seeks to raise her family in a fully inclusive environment and is committed to ensuring such a place through her words and actions.
|Leonard Slutsky (he/him) grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut where he was involved with his temple youth group (GRSLY) and NFTY-Northeast. While studying at Ithaca College, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communication and was involved with Hillel. After graduating college, Leonard moved to Los Angeles, California to be an associate strategic planner at the national advertising agency Rubin Postaer and Associates (RPA). He is currently an admissions counselor for the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
|Laura Stein (she/her) grew up in Scarsdale, New York and at Westchester Reform Temple, where her love of Jewish music and passion for tikkun olam were nurtured. After studying Spanish Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Laura earned her Master of Sacred Music and Cantorial Ordination from HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. Laura also has a Master of Social Work from New York University. Currently, Laura serves as cantor of the Free Synagogue of Flushing and as a social worker at Mt. Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.
Morgan Tobey was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Southern California. During Morgan’s time in college, she was actively involved in Hillel, serving on the Ritual Committee and leading an LGBTQ Jewish group. Upon returning home to Dallas, she became a teacher and has worked extensively as a lay leader at Temple Emanu-El, working to serve the LGBTQ and young adult communities.
About the Union for Reform Judaism
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.
Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 900 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.
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