I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles where we were one of the only Jewish families, and always yearned to experience a sense of Jewish community.  I found my Jewish community two weeks ago at the New Member Institute.  I have never experienced such a level of warmth, openness and acceptance as I did that week, no matter how different our backgrounds.  Having lost both of my parents several years ago, it was the first time I felt part of a mishpocha again.  And that was after only five days together. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next two years.  

Brette Simon, WHP Member (Los Angeles 15), has been a corporate attorney for the last 21 years and formed her own practice last year. She is active in several community organizations, having served as a board member of Bet Tzedek for 10 years and co-chair of their annual Justice Ball, along with the Anti-Defamation League, the Aspen Institute, the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the American Friends of the Israel Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Brette is also a nationally-recognized speaker and a mentor through AccelFoods, an accelerator for food and beverage start-ups. She received a BA from University of California, San Diego and a JD from UCLA School of Law. Brette can be reached at brette.simon@outlook.com.


As someone who approaches things from a fairly rationalist/academic perspective, I expected to be least interested in things like morning services and the ethical will exercise.  These were the most important experiences for me.  My wife, Karyn, feared that the ethical wills exercise would become too much about “contemplating my own death” but the questions and Cindy Chazan’s guidance steered it away from the maudlin to thinking about “what values are most important to me?”  After doing the exercise, neither Karyn nor I were surprised by what the other wrote, but it helped us more deeply understand each other’s values.  Our ethical wills were quite different from one another, yet very much compatible.  This exercise, and others during the week, were triggers for us to have real conversations about big issues beyond the logistics of raising kids, career issues, running a house, etc.  And we both felt the need to make sure we continue to communicate these values to our children, not just through an ethical will they may read some day, but though the way we order our lives and priorities on a day-to-day basis, and how we speak to our children.   After the institute, Ben (my 15-year-old son) and I went to the top of Beaver Creek Mountain, and discussed much of what I had written.  

David Leit, WHP Member (Greater MetroWest 15), has been practicing law for nearly 20 years, now as a partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, with a focus on intellectual property and technology issues, representing a lot of start-ups, as well as established companies with technology law needs. He has been active in synagogue leadership as well as the Federation, most notably as part of the first cohort of the Peoplehood Project and as Chair of the Religious Pluralism Committee. David received a BA from Stanford University, where he was captain of the club Karate team, and a JD from Columbia University. David can be reached at dleit@lowenstein.com.

The energy and passion at the NMI was palpable. I found something holy and invigorating in sharing time, space and intention with my fellow “Wexners.”

Jen Newmark, WHP Member (St. Louis 15), is a registered veterinary technician and writer. She is a board member of United Hebrew Congregation and has served as a member of a number of Jewish Federation of St. Louis committees, including Thrive Live, Get in the Olive Grove and Women Clergy Event. Jen can be reached at jnewmark18@gmail.com.


Wexner 2015 New Member Institute – A Snowmass Pastiche

  • Reb Feinstein removing us from the rote and leading us into intimate, personal connection with the morning prayers – then explicating Jewish modernity via Tevya and Golda
  • Reb Ingber bringing the week’s parsha to vibrant clarity and contemporary relevance
  • Morah Brown’s hermeneutical spelunking, delving deeper and deeper into the texts
  • Basya Schechter and Elli Kranzler’s soulful grooves
  • A moving reading of Blu Greenberg’s Shoah poetry
  • Considering the challenging questions – for Israel, the United States, and the world — raised by the multilateral agreement with Iran
  • Leslie and Abigail Wexner’s inspiring vision of Jewish peoplehood and model of philanthropic selflessness
  • Reb Greenberg’s Fu Manchu
  • Securing the structural threads of a new web of respect, care and community — manifest most recently by Phoebe’s and my sharing last week’s Kabbalat Shabbat with Reb Berkowitz in Jerusalem
  • A group, in Dennis Prager’s parlance, of decidedly serious Jews, and the joyous prospect of learning with and from each other for the next two years and those thereafter.

Craig Levine, WHP Member (Greater MetroWest 15), is a career public interest lawyer who most recently led the Legal Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and is a Visiting Lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is an active member and lay leader of Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue in Montclair, NJ, having served as its Co-President, Chair of Leadership Development, co-founder of the Chevra Kadisha, chair of the search committee for a new Director of Congregational Learning, and Trustee. Craig also sits on the boards of many other Jewish and legal organizations. He received a BA from Yale University, a JD from New York University, and an MA in Domestic Policy from Princeton. Craig can be reached at craiglevine1@yahoo.com


The readings on the history of Zionism and the importance of Israel to the Jewish people were particularly powerful to me. Days after the NMI, I met my daughter in Israel to attend a ceremony in which she and 300 other young people were welcomed to Israel as part of the Lone Soldier program. The readings really helped me to better understand and appreciate her commitment to Zionism and the State of Israel.

Jenny Wolkowitz, WHP Member (St. Louis 15), works as the St. Louis Advisor for Tips on Trips and Camps, a consulting service to help families find high-quality and well-suited summer overnight programs. She is the President of Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project, and has previously held leadership positions at the St. Louis Jewish Light, the Millstone Advisory Committee, the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Solomon Schechter Day School. She received a BA from the University of Texas and an MPA from Eastern Washington University. Jenny can be reached at jennyrwolkowitz@gmail.com.


“Ayeka?” (“Where are you?”) asked friends, family, and clients last week. In Aspen for the Wexner New Members Institute, my wife and I were immersed in an intensive week of study, connection and inspiration with prominent Jewish thinkers and leaders from around the country.  We were challenged to deepen our knowledge of Jewish texts and values in order to better strengthen our community at home.  Now home, we are exhausted but ready and eager to meet the Wexner challenge.

Sam Yebri, WHP Member (Los Angeles 15), is an attorney, civic activist and community leader. He founded the law firm of Merino Yebri LLP in 2010. In addition, Sam is the president and co-founder of 30 YEARS AFTER, a leading civic action organization formed in 2007 whose mission is to promote the participation of Iranian American Jews in American civic, political and Jewish life. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles’ Community Engagement Initiative, as Chair of the Federation’s New Leaders Project, as well as on the New Leaders Council of Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the Advisory Committee for the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Huffington Post, the Jewish Journal, and the Los Angeles Lawyer. Sam was born in Iran and moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of one. Sam can be reached at samyebri@yahoo.com.


​It is fair to say that the New Member Institute exceeded my expectations by all accounts.  The level of knowledge that our teachers have is simply mind-blowing.  What is more amazing is their passion, desire and willingness to deliver this knowledge to us in ways that speak to the incredibly diverse class make-up.  I’m thankful to Leslie and Abigail for their ability to act upon a vision; I’m thankful to our staff leadership for executing that vision; and I’m grateful to be sharing the experience with amazing lay leaders from around the country.

Josh Wallac​h, WHP Member (St. Louis 15), is a lifelong St. Louisan, except for his four years of college at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2013, he completed the sale of his company in order to create the time to raise his children and focus on Jewish communal and philanthropic work. He is most passionate about his work with Congregation Shaare Emeth, a vital and integral part of his life since preschool. He currently serves as a board member, operating committee member and co-chair of its capital campaign. He enjoys long-distance running, playing the guitar, cooking and the St. Louis Cardinals. Josh can be reached at joshualeewallach@gmail.com.


On the first day of the Wexner Institute, we introduced ourselves to our St. Louis colleagues; and on the last day, I felt as though I had known our entire group for years. The friendships made in just the first week are indicative of what we can accomplish together as a team over the next two years and beyond.

Michael Layco​b, WHP Member (St. Louis 15), is President of Precision Practice Management. He is an active volunteer for B’nai Amoona Congregation and the Jewish Community Center, as well as a tennis coach for the St. Louis delegation to JCC Maccabi. He received a BA and JD from Cornell University and an MBA from Goizueta Business School. Michael can be reached at mdlaycob@gmail.com.