Our challenge: Find 10 Jews under the age of 40 in Washington State who are making an impact on their
communities. Our next challenge? Whittling down the list. These 10 extraordinary individuals come from many different walks of life and do many different things to garner them this honor, but each has this in common: They are all dedicated to the work they’re doing, and whether it’s in Jewish communal work, for a specific cause, or something else entirely, they are clearly
doing something right.
—Joel Magalnick, Editor, JTNews
Courtesy The Kavana Cooperative
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
Nominating Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum to be on this list was, really, a no-brainer. Given the various stories we and other news outlets have run on the organization she founded, The Kavana Cooperative, and the numerous grants, awards and recognition both Kavana and Nussbaum herself have received, of course she would make the list.
Then, just as we were preparing to pick up the phone and give her a call, an e-mail popped into the JTNews inbox congratulating Nussbaum on her selection as one of eight Joshua Venture social entrepreneurship fellows.
“It’s very exciting,” Nussbaum, 33, says. “It’s gratifying to have the recognition that this model that what we’re creating is working and that other people are seeing value in that.”
The model that Nussbaum created with a core team of Seattle Jews searching for a home that met their Jewish needs, both spiritually and communally, was Kavana — Hebrew for “intention” — a community that operates on many levels from the grass roots.
“I’m thrilled by what the community has become in terms of having really achieved a vision of a pluralistic community,” Nussbaum says. “It really, truly has reached people who weren’t truly involved.”
One of those people was Kavana’s current board president, Jeff Sprung.
“I’m a huge fan,” Sprung says of Nussbaum. “What she’s done is created a way for people who haven’t…had a good way to gather with people who wanted to celebrate being Jewish in the same way they did, and Rachel has created a place where those people want to go and feel welcome.”
In particular, Sprung pointed out the family programs that truly are for families, which he said have been personally fulfilling. Those include afterschool programs as well as a toddlers’ Hebrew immersion program, at which Nussbaum could be found attending one recent week with her own 5-month-old daughter.
With the announcement of the Joshua Venture fellowship comes a grant of $50,000 per year over the next two years and entry into a cohort of seven other innovators to share ideas and best practices, and to commiserate over challenges each faces. For Nussbaum and Kavana in particular, it’s an avenue into laying the groundwork for bringing what they’ve built to new venues — with its own leadership.
“I don’t have any interest at this point in franchising it, being in charge of Kavanas all over the place,” she says.
But there’s definitely demand for what they’re doing. Nussbaum says she’s receiving calls every week from other communities interested in taking bits and pieces of Kavana’s model and working them into their own programs. The big talk these days, particularly among funding organizations, is in the reinvention of supplemental Jewish education.
“Most Jewish kids are still not involved in Jewish day schools,” she says. “There’s a thought you can get a better bang for your buck if you reach everyone else.”
But despite the awards and recognition, Nussbaum believes much of the spotlight is due to luck.
“Part of it is just being in the right time at the right place, and having the luxury here of finding a group of people who are excited about innovating,” she says. “I wouldn’t be getting recognition were it not for this amazing community that’s come together.”
And, lest you think this national spotlight is going to her head, visit her home some Wednesday evening. She’ll be dealing with the same challenges every mom has of putting two small children to bed — while in the living room she’s leading a discussion of the week’s Torah portion. It’s all in a day’s work.
— Joel Magalnick
The Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Kalsman is getting ready for its fourth summer, and camp director David Berkman couldn’t be happier with the way things are going.
“This has been sort of a dream job for me,” Berkman says.
Berkman, 35, has been working with URJ summer camps since 1997. He was the assistant director for the Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas and Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Penn. and then the associate director of camping for the URJ as a whole. In between, he took a year off to get his Master’s degree in management from the University of Denver.
When the chance to run a new camp here in the Pacific Northwest came along, Berkman said he was thrilled to take on the challenge.
“The opportunity to start a camp from ground up is rare,” he says. “It was very exciting.”
Berkman says he’s pleased with the way Camp Kalsman, located on 300 acres of land outside of Arlington, an hour’s drive north of Seattle, has taken shape. He estimates just over 500 campers will attend Kalsman this summer, a 10 percent increase from last year.
“It’s great to see so many happy kids come through doors every year,” he says.
But one thing this summer will be different than the first three, at least for Berkman: The gold ring on his fourth finger. He married obstetrician Keely Brown earlier this year.
Although summer camps have been Berkman’s career and passion for the past 13 years, he got his start in a different line of work entirely: As an EMT and firefighter in Texas.
“What little boy didn’t grow up wanting to drive the fire engine?” he recalls.
But it turns out there are more similarities between fighting fires and running a summer camp than one might think. Berkman credits his first career with helping to prepare him for the demands of his current position.
“It certainly helped shape my attitude and gave me a great deal of perspective in terms of what was worth worrying about,” he says. “It’s also a job where you need to be able to process a lot of information in a very rapid manner. Just like a summer camp.”
— Leyna Krow
Courtesy Anna Cherkasov
One of Anna Cherkasov’s earliest memories of arriving in the United States was her first trip to the supermarket, and seeing, for the first time at the age of 12, the rows and rows of shelves filled with an unimaginable number of different types of foods.
“I came to Florida — Jacksonville, Florida in ’91 with my family. I was 12 at the time,” says Cherkasov, now 31. “We were Jewish refugees and we came through Jewish Family Services, from Moscow.”
In a lot of ways, Cherkasov and her family were some of the lucky ones. Her mother had been an English teacher in Russia and her father, a computer programmer, had learned enough English to get by, though initially it was difficult for him to start talking in this new language.
Such is not the case for many immigrants of the former Soviet Union, a large percentage of whom still have not learned the language of their new country — even after nearly two decades.
According to census figures — now 10 years old — there are about 6 million Russian speakers in the United States, with about 200,000 of them living in Washington State — second in foreign native language speakers only to Hispanics. The numbers are likely much greater now.
Cherkasov’s contribution to helping out her Russian comrades has been two-fold: The first, begun in 2002, came almost by accident. It’s a newspaper, called the Russian World, produced in Kirkland. It came about when her husband lost his first business.
“We were thinking of what kind of work we [wanted] to be doing, and friends suggested we help them with a money transferring service [to] Russia,” Cherkasov says.
But there was a problem: They couldn’t get the word out.
“There was no really good source of media to do it,” Cherkasov says, “so we decided to create one ourselves.”
Among those 200,000 Russians were several journalists, a lot of whom were out of work. They built up a newspaper, printed entirely in the mother tongue, to distribute in Washington and Oregon with a circulation of 10,000. A separate edition was launched last year in Vancouver, B.C.
But Cherkasov’s second contribution is much more of a direct service, inspired by a friend of hers, a mental health therapist named Lana Polinger. “She’d been seeing a lot of people over the years — uninsured, unemployed, don’t have the means to pay for counseling,” Cherkasov says, “[but] she would see them anyway.”
In 2008, Cherkasov and Polinger set up a non-profit organization called the Eastern European Counseling Center (www.easterneuropeancounseling.org), which raises money and provides the counseling services necessary to treat these Russian émigrés who wouldn’t be able to get help on their own.
“We got some funding, but it’s still in the kind of beginning stages,” Cherkasov says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
But she sees many issues that need to be addressed: Russian women that came to the states to marry American men, only to have those marriages fall apart, for example. Or families like her own when she arrived in Florida, except not having had that English background to help get them started in their new country.
“A lot of times they don’t speak the language, so it’s not just adjusting to the new life and the new country,” she says. “It’s the new country, the language, and not knowing where to go for what.”
As a young girl, Cherkasov was able to pick up English well enough to get through school and create a life for herself. She’s got a career, a husband, a 4-year-old daughter — not everyone who left the Soviet Union was so lucky. Those are the ones whose fortunes she’s trying to raise.
Courtesy Farkash family
Rabbi Shalom “Berry” and Nechama Farkash
When Rabbi Berry Farkash, 29, and his wife Nechama, 27, first visited Issaquah in 2003 to host a Purim celebration for the community they would soon be serving, they knew no one.
“We sat down together and went through the phone book,” Berry Farkash recalls. “We called every Jewish name, told them what we were doing, and invited them to come.”
About 15 people attended that first event and they became Chabad of the Central Cascades’ original contacts. Seven years later, the organization boasts a list of almost 1,200 participants.
Right out of the gate, Chabad of the Central Cascades was considered one of the fastest growing Chabads in the country. Berry attributes his early success to two factors: Location and hard work.
“There was definitely a need,” he says. “We came at the perfect time. Everyone was moving into the [Issaquah] Highlands. A lot of families had just moved to the area — a lot of unaffiliated people.”
Combine good timing with a dedication to outreach and you have the Farkashes’ recipe for success.
“We spent a lot of time and energy,” Berry says.
And they’re still growing. Last fall, Chabad of the Central Cascades celebrated the dedication of its permanent Chabad House. This new space has opened up opportunities for additional programming, including an in-house preschool, the playground for which is being installed this week.
Berry Farkash is originally from Jerusalem, but was living in New York prior to coming to Issaquah. It was in New York that he married Nechama, who has been his partner both in life and career ever since.
While Berry takes responsibility for leading services and teaching at Chabad of the Central Cascades, Nechama runs the Hebrew school, summer day camp, and leads women’s classes.
“She works very hard,” Berry says. “You should maybe write this about my wife more than me.”
Which is why we took liberties with this one individual and made it two — the entire family, actually. For in addition to their work for Chabad, the Farkashes are also busy caring for their three young children who range in age from 2 to 6.
“Between raising the family and doing this, it’s a lot of good blessings,” Berry says.
— Leyna Krow
Courtesy Jennifer Goldberg
Six weeks after Jennifer Goldberg’s son Tate was born, he came down with pneumonia. Less than a month later, Tate developed a life-threatening staph infection. After weeks of shuttling the baby back and forth between doctors, unable to determine how their son could become seriously ill so often in his first months of life, a pediatrician recommended that Goldberg and her husband Matt take the boy to Children’s Hospital. Within a matter of days, they had a diagnosis — primary immunodeficiency disease, a rare genetic disorder affecting one in every 1 million children.
“That day a door closed on our chance to be a normal family,” Goldberg recalls. “But at the same time another door opened. I asked myself, ‘How can I cure my son?’ I’m not a doctor and I’m not a researcher. But I can use my gifts and talents in other ways. I can try to make resources available to his doctors and to help Children’s provide care to every child who needs it.”
Ten years later, Goldberg has become a tireless advocate for Seattle Children’s Hospital. She is president and a founding member of the Gift of Immunity Guild of Seattle Children’s Hospital as well as a member of the hospital’s Guild Association Board of Trustees, Guild Association Membership Committee, and Government Affairs Committee. Her efforts include organizing events for kids with primary immunodeficiency disease, raising awareness for the disorder, organizing fundraising efforts, and lobbying on behalf of the hospital at the state capitol.
“I’ve been spending lots of time in Olympia,” Goldberg says.
In 2009 alone, Goldberg’s Gift of Immunity campaign raised more than $10,000 for immunology research and uncompensated care for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
As for Tate, he is now in the 3rd grade and is, according to Goldberg, “a happy guy.”
“He hasn’t been seriously ill since he was diagnosed,” Goldberg says. “Most kids with primary immunodeficiency disease have a serious, life-threatening infection every four years. He’s going on 10 years. I totally give credit to his doctors for that. They are there with us every step of the way.”
In addition to her work on behalf Children’s Hospital, Goldberg is also a member of the Temple De Hirsch Sinai religion school committee. Both Tate and Goldberg’s 6-year old daughter attend religious school at TDHS and the entire family is active in the synagogue. They reside in Bellevue.
Aaron Goldfeder is busy with EnergySavvy.com (at, you guessed it, www.energysavvy.com), his business of saving you energy (and if he helps the planet, too, that’s a bonus).
“There are two sides to our business,” he says, “homeowners and service providers.” The site, at which you can evaluate your home’s energy efficiency, “is totally free for homeowners,” who can then use it to evaluate tax credits and rebates and find contractors to do on-site energy audits, which homeowners do pay for.
The audit is a good investment, however, says Goldfeder, 34. “Most homes can save 20 to 30 percent of their energy use.”
The energy auditor can determine if your heating ducts are leaking, where windows and doors are drafty and evaluate the air quality inside your house (another thing most of us don’t think about).
The site also links you to home energy contractors that have been vetted by Goldfeder and his staff.
“It’s kind of a pain to search for contractors,” he acknowledges. Contractors on the site have paid to be listed there. “We screen them and make sure they are qualified…. We like to think we’re the unbiased advocate.”
In addition to the energy audits, most of these contractors can perform repair work and install energy efficient items from appliances to solar panels, depending on what the consumer wants.
Aaron started EnergySavvy.com in December 2008, “in the middle of the nuclear meltdown of the economy,” but business has continued to grow nationwide. “We’ve been hiring the whole time — that’s been really rewarding.”
Growing up in Tampa, Fla., which has a small, but active Jewish community, Goldfeder moved to Seattle in the 1990s to get a Master’s degree in math from the University of Washington. From there he went on to work at Microsoft for six years.
He served on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s Young Leadership Division board a few years ago, but right now most of his scarce volunteer hours go into
Bloom Seattle (www.bloomseattle.com). This informal group of leaders in environmental sustainability gathers occasionally to discuss cutting-edge efforts in the field.
When asked what he does for fun, he deadpanned, “I do not know of what you speak.” Life is pretty busy for a small business owner growing his company.
— Diana Brement
Courtesy Seth Goldstein
Rabbi Seth Goldstein
Seth Goldstein hadn’t planned on becoming a rabbi. Even after he had completed a couple of years of study at Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship rabbinical school, actually entering the rabbinate wasn’t in the cards, he had thought.
He had planned to get a Master’s degree, and figured “I’d probably end up teaching, or [as] an academic,”Goldstein, 36, says. Then, as he thought more deeply about what he wanted to do with his life, partly because his wife, Yohanna Kinberg, currently associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, was also undergoing her training, “I ultimately decided what I wanted to do was to build Jewish community, to work within Jewish community.”
He still thought of that involvement as doing something at a Hillel, perhaps, in that college type of atmosphere.
“I had a really positive period on campus when I was at Wesleyan,” he says. “I felt I had this really strong Jewish identity, and connection to Judaism and tradition, and I really wanted to bring that to others.”
But the idea of having his own pulpit? “I was never — even through rabbinical school — I was never leaning toward the congregational rabbinate.”
Goldstein grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and aside from visits to Kinberg’s family in Oregon and a few jaunts north, he was an East Coast boy, where everything’s Jewish, even if it’s not.
“You don’t even have to be affiliated with organized Judaism to have a fulfilling Jewish life,” he says.
Why would he want to give up that instant Jewish connection? Then he visited Temple Beth Hatfiloh, Olympia’s Reconstructionist synagogue, as a student rabbi for the High Holidays.
“I came out and had an incredible experience,” Goldstein says. “There was a real vibrancy that I hadn’t experienced before.”
What struck him most was that everyone filling those seats wanted to be there. If many people consider Seattle the hinterlands of the Diaspora, what does that make Olympia, with just three synagogues, a Jewish students’ group at The Evergreen College, and no other real Jewish infrastructure?
“The community was very diverse. We don’t have a large swath of Jewish organizations where people can sort of choose and find their niche,” he says. “We have to do it all here.”
So when Beth Hatfiloh decided to hire a rabbi, Goldstein applied for the job. And got it. That was seven years ago.
Camille Kettel, who calls herself a somewhat active congregant, is glad he did.
“He was just a welcoming, wonderful soul,” she says, remembering when she walked through the temple’s doors for the first time upon landing in Olympia from Michigan five years ago.
Rabbi Goldstein calls Beth Hatfiloh, the capital city’s largest congregation, more of a community center.
“What I’d like to say I bring is — besides a specific program — is just an openness,” he says. “An openness to people to come, and to experience, and to explore Judaism, to make Judaism something that’s joyful and engaging, and to really try to meet people where they are — and at the same time pushing them to explore aspects of Judaism and Jewish tradition.”
His tenure has seen a lot of change at the synagogue: A new building, new members, new outreach to interfaith communities.
His biggest point of pride right now? A project, still ongoing, called the Community Conversations Project, where members — and even some nonmembers — gather in small groups in people’s homes and share their Jewish journeys.
“We came to a point to think about where are we going as a community, how can we really grow not just outward, but inward,” Goldstein says. “We weren’t sure where it was going to lead. We didn’t have a specific goal at the end of it.”
At this point, they’ve gotten feedback about how the temple’s work can be improved, but more important to Goldstein, “people have made connections with one another,” he says. “People engaged with it, even people who were somewhat skeptical…really came out of it with positive thoughts.”
— Joel Magalnick
Recognizing Joel Rothschild is not just recognizing Joel Rothschild. It’s recognizing an entire community. And Joel is, in many ways, the face (and the de facto director) of that community — the Ravenna Kibbutz, a collective of 18 residents in three houses, an apartment, and a rented room on a single block in Seattle’s Northend (right by where Leah’s catering kitchen and restaurants, the Panini Grill, and Tree of Life Judaica and Books used to be!). Though by no means is he the only one moving it forward.
For its first couple years of existence, the kibbutz was the Seattle branch of the international intentional communal living project Moishe House, but when some of its members (including Rothschild, 31) aged out of the imposed 30-year-old limit, and when some of the programming the kibbutz wanted to do didn’t jibe with requirements set forth by Moishe House, the two entities went their own ways.
You’ll find activities going on almost any day of the week in one of the residences’ living rooms or close by. The Shabbat dinner potluck at the commons, a large room in a spacious mid-century modern house with a floor that covers over a swimming pool, is hugely popular. House concerts in the commons have ranged from folk singers to klezmer to hip hop — just try to picture 70 Jews creating a mosh pit in someone’s living room anyplace else.
One surprise, at least to resident Ilana Mantell, was how the young Russian Jewish immigrant community has gravitated toward the kibbutz, mainly due to the efforts of one its residents, Masha Shtern. That, according to Mantell, is the type of atmosphere Rothschild has created and fostered.
“What Joel has successfully done is make a grassroots, bottom-up organization where people who are offering the programs are the people using them,” she says. “He’s trying to create opportunities for people to do it themselves.”
As Rothschild tells it, however, he’s trying to create something much bigger than an organization. He points to a Jewish–Muslim food cooperative at his alma mater, Oberlin College, and the time he spent living in Tel Aviv as having planted the seeds for this grand project.
“That notion of that thing we have in common being a place rather than a specific ideology, or in our case specific background or religion, was definitely inspiration for Ravenna Kibbutz,” he says. “You feel a rootedness…that’s much more tangible than the abstract notion of a shared religious practice or ideology or theology, and it can have a real impact.”
Mantell says her own approach to Judaism has changed since she moved in, and she’s not the only one.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t know what it means to be Jewish, they’re intimidated by what’s out there. Here’s a place where the bar to entry is extremely low,” she says. “The kibbutz has challenged me to create events: I want to make challah, how do I do that? There’s no adult in the next room to do things for you.”
Now awaiting its 501(c)3 designation so they can raise and collect money to sustain themselves — “Send money!” exhorts Mantell — Rothschild is charged with making the kibbutz financially sustainable, which he says it is through the end of the year, though they do need to replenish their savings.
“We will not rest as far as fundraising is concerned until we are able to comfortably sustain the kinds of programs that we’ve been doing all along, with local support,” he says.
He’s putting together a board of directors. He will also be overseeing the purchase of a permanent kibbutz. And did I mention that he’s got a day job as well, as a software developer?
Rothschild and I spoke the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, and he mentioned something lost in the Shoah that doesn’t always get noticed: “The loss of most of the world’s Jewish neighborhoods.”
When American Jews rushed to the suburbs, that compounded the loss, but some members of this generation have decided to move back into densely populated areas, which means the fostering of places like the kibbutz could be sustainable.
Not in Rothschild’s lifetime, he says, has a Jewish neighborhood been built “without there being any particular flavor of Jewish doctrine behind the sense of collective identity” like can be found in most neighborhoods in Israel.
It’s quite possible that his will be the first.
— Joel Magalnick
Not everyone can muddle through the reams of paper legislators fill up with facts, figures, data and who knows what else. But one of the people who can — and does, though he’s got staffers to do most of that investigating now — is Remy Trupin, 38, founding executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
The center uses what it calls a “values-driven framework” — and a progressive point of view — to look at the state’s budget as what Trupin calls “an expression of our values of the state.” He defines those values as helping to bring families living in poverty or on the economic precipice out of that situation, increasing education opportunities, keeping healthy the state’s citizens and the environment in which they live, and developing communities with all of those items in mind.
The center was “born out of frustration and concern about not getting systemic solutions to persistent problems that affect moderate-income Washingtonians,” Trupin told JTNews.
As the lobbyist for the Jewish Federation of Seattle and the United Way prior to joining the Budget & Policy Center in 2005, “I was coming back to the legislature [and] to the Jewish community every year with the same issues because of the challenge of the budget being so unworkable for maintaining long-term investments that really make an impact on the lives of poor people in Washington,” he says.
Though you may have seen Trupin appear on TV or in newspaper interviews, most of the work his organization does is utilized by the state’s legislators and social service lobbyists. And he says that work is making a difference.
“We’ve most significantly been able to change the public debate about budget and taxes in some fundamental ways,” Trupin says. “That’s really played out in the conversations around [Initiative] 1033, and in the devastating effect that was going to have on Washington State, and around this year’s continued conversation about the Great Recession’s impact on the state budget.”
I-1033, had it passed, would have set a limit on state, county and local government spending based upon the previous year’s revenue. Trupin successfully spent a lot of his time during the last election season trying to keep it from passing.
It’s likely that the center’s pie charts and graphs were one reason the state legislature this week — a month after the session was supposed to end — passed its first significant revenue-generating package since the early 1980s.
Despite drastic cuts over the past two years, here’s what that package does for us:
“It’s not to balance numbers on a ledger. More revenue isn’t needed just to end a political stalemate. It’s not about filling an impersonal budget shortfall. It’s not really even about whether we pay a few more pennies for a beer.” Trupin wrote on the center’s blog on April 6, days before the two chambers came to a budgetary agreement.
“It’s to make sure the elderly are cared for, that children are educated, that the environment is protected, that the state protects its future — all those things we expect our government to do.”
Trupin is a Seattle boy through and through: He grew up on Capitol Hill, attended Garfield High School, and holds two degrees from the University of Washington. And he lives with his wife Sharon in, you guessed it, Seattle.
— Joel Magalnick
Courtesy Elana Zana
She’s lived her entire life steeped in Seattle’s Jewish community, and as an adult Elana Zana is actively giving back to that community in more ways than one.
Start first with her primary education: The Seattle Hebrew Academy. She’s on a committee there, she says, “working with alumni and encouraging them to both donate and be connected in the school.”
It has been more than half of her life since Zana, 28, attended SHA, by the way.
Move on to Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, the Sephardic synagogue where Zana has been a lifelong member. The previous rabbi, Salomon Cohen-Scali, moved to New York at the end of last year, and they’re looking for “an energetic rabbi who will grow our Sephardic community and our synagogue,” she says.
But they wanted someone energetic on the rabbinical search committee as well.
“I’m on the board of Ezra Bessaroth,” she says, and “I think they were looking for a young voice on the committee, also somebody who’s been a member of the synagogue her whole life. I know the community, and…I believe I know what our synagogue is looking for.”
Then comes the Cardozo Society, the affinity group for legal professionals at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Zana is an attorney, representing clients in the health care and telecommunications industries (including having worked with Sephardic Bikur Holim on necessary paperwork to install a cell phone antenna). She’s been active with that group, including planning a recent networking event.
“Every time I meet with her she’s very enthusiastic and I think she’s a very good lawyer,” says Aric Bomsztyk, co-chair of the Federation’s Cardozo Society. “She put on a great networking event that was a success by all accounts.”
Finally, there’s the Capitol Hill Minyan, the satellite congregation of Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath that meets at the Council House retirement facility.
“My husband and I attend on a weekly basis and participate in their events,” Zana says.
The minyan attracts a lot of young, modern Orthodox folks, including about five families with kids under the age of three. Add Zana to that list — she became a mother for the first time less than two weeks ago, to a baby girl. For the Zana and her husband Josh, the cycle of Jewish continuity will go on.
— Joel Magalnick