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Wexner Heritage Program Summer Institute 2014 Faculty Bios

Click here to view the WHP New Member Institute Schedule.

Maya Bernstein

Maya Bernstein is the Strategic Design Officer at UpStart Bay Area, an innovation and consulting firm that supports Jewish social entrepreneurs and facilitates change and growth processes in established Jewish organizations. She served as the founding Regional Director of The Curriculum Initiative’s New England and Bay Area Regions, supporting ethics and diversity education and Jewish life at prep schools. Her writing on the intersection of Jewish thought and change theory has appeared online and in print in a variety of publications, including The Jewish Week, Sh’ma, Zeek, e-jewish philanthropy, and The Huffington Post. She also writes about the joys and challenges of modern Jewish motherhood for Lilith magazine. A graduate of Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Columbia University and Harvard's Graduate School of Education, Maya has lived, taught, and spoken with the natives in Belarus, Germany, Israel, and China. She and her husband Rabbi Noam Silverman live in the Bay Area with their three children. Maya is a 2012 recipient of the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize. 


Dr. Erica Brown

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults with for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. Erica’s forthcoming books are Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death (Simon & Schuster) and Leadership in the Wilderness: Authority and Anxiety in the Book of Numbers. She is also the author of the books, Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist, Spiritual Boredom, Confronting Scandal, In the Narrow Places, Return and co-author of The Case for Jewish Peoplehood. Erica writes a monthly column for The New York Jewish Week and the website Psychology Today and writes a weekly column for JTA on Jewish leadership. She was a Jerusalem Fellow, is a faculty member of the Wexner Foundation, an Avi Chai Fellow, winner of the Ted Farber Professional Excellence Award, recipient of the 2009 Covenant Award for her work in education, and winner of the 2011 Bernie Reisman Award for Jewish Communal Service (Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, Brandeis University). Erica has degrees from Yeshiva University, University of London, Harvard University and Baltimore Hebrew University. She lectures widely on subjects of Jewish interest and leadership and writes a weekly internet essay called “Weekly Jewish Wisdom.” She tweets daily on one page of the Talmud at DrEricaBrown and tweets an inspirational quote or question called Happier Days. She resides with her husband and four children in Silver Spring, Maryland.


Rabbi Joshua Elkin

Rabbi Joshua Elkin is an Executive and Leadership Coach, focused on working with executive and volunteer leaders to achieve organizational and personal goals. He brings 35 years of executive leadership experience, including partnering with a wide diversity of board leaders. Throughout his career, Josh has devoted his efforts toward supporting and nurturing leaders. In his current work, Josh is concentrating his attention on coaching the board chair-top executive leadership dyad — the locus of greatest influence on the well-being and strength of any organization or institution. In addition to coaching, Josh is doing a variety of consulting work, including working with DRG, an executive recruiting organization focused on the nonprofit sector. Josh’s work also encompasses mentoring, teaching, speaking, and facilitating. Josh was the Founding Executive Director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), a position which he held for fourteen years. Under his leadership, PEJE grew and evolved into a sustaining resource for the entire day school enterprise across North America, and across the denominational spectrum. Under Josh's leadership, PEJE helped promote higher standards in board governance, improve partnering between boards and heads of school, expand financial resource development , and increase broad advocacy efforts in support of the value of Jewish day school education. Prior to joining PEJE, Josh was the Head of School at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston for twenty years. He led that school through its expansion to two campuses with 600 students. He was also instrumental in bringing independent school accreditation, outside expertise for assessing school performance, and strategic planning not only into his own school but into the day school field as a whole. Josh completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia College, and then pursued and completed doctoral studies at Columbia Teachers College, while simultaneously studying for rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which he completed in 1975. In 1987-1988, Josh was honored by being selected as a Jerusalem Fellow of the Mandel Foundation; he spent that year in Israel studying Midrash and developing the beginning ideas of how to build a stronger network of day schools. While at Schechter, he also served as an Adjunct Lecturer in Jewish Education at the Hornstein Program for Jewish Communal service at Brandeis University. He is married to Judy Israel Elkin, previously a Jewish educator and currently a certified professional and personal coach. Together they are the proud parents of Jonathan, Benjamin, and Liza. For recreation, Josh loves to sing, garden, and bike.


Arna Poupko Fisher

Arna Poupko Fisher, a noted lecturer and educator, was the first individual to serve as a permanent, full time, scholar in residence for a Federation when she began her pioneering work as the Judaic Consultant of the Montreal Federation.  In this capacity, Ms. Fisher was the scholar, teacher, and advisor within the Federation and its 20 constituent agencies.  The prestigious Avi Chai Foundation celebrated this work when it awarded this position the first prize for “Excellent Community Initiatives to Strengthen Jewish Commitment”.  Ms. Fisher taught classical Jewish texts to communal leaders and professionals in an open and inviting atmosphere, encouraging diversity of thought and approaches. Arna Poupko Fisher has lectured in over 120 communities throughout North America and recently gave key note addresses at the Israeli Presidential Conference and the JCCA Biennial. Graduating from Yeshiva University with degrees in both Jewish education and medieval Jewish philosophy, Ms. Fisher continued her graduate work in the Doctoral programs of both the University of Toronto, and McGill University.  She is had several national  television  appearances and has published on subjects pertaining to the relationship of Jewish Law to contemporary society. Arna Poupko Fisher serves as faculty for The Wexner Foundation and has taught at both the University of Toronto and McGill University.  Ms. Fisher is currently on the faculty of the Department of Jewish studies at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches courses in the areas of Jewish theology and Hebrew Bible. Ms. Fisher is on the executive of the Cincinnati Federation, and is the immediate past president of the JCRC of Cincinnati.


Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is one of the most popular performers and producers in modern Jewish music. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Josh's music is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps and communities around the world. Delivering high-octane Jewish rock, the Josh Nelson Project is five of the most talented performers in the United States. Each musician is young, Jewish and a positive role model. 2009 marked the long-awaited release of "Lift," the debut CD from the Josh Nelson Project. Built upon songs of Jewish identity and continuity, "Lift" breaks new ground with razor-sharp lyricism and a progressive, radio-ready sound. The Josh Nelson Project is a perfect choice for community concerts, inspiring Shabbat services and artist residencies. Josh's performance style is high-energy and captivating, and his music consistently leaves audiences with strong feelings of community. Josh has performed over one thousand shows in a variety of venues. Highlights include: international conventions for each of the major youth movements in the USA (NFTY, USY, BBYO, etc.), URJ Biennial Conventions, Limmud Conferences, JCCA National Conventions, JCC Maccabi Games, CAJE Conferences and JCCs across the country. Josh serves as the music director for the URJ Biennial Convention, faculty for the Hava Nashira Music Institute, and a musical artist in residence for the JCC Maccabi Artsfest. Josh was selected as a 2011 PresenTense NYC Fellow for his new venture, THE WAREHOUSE, an alternative Shabbat experience for unaffiliated young Jews in major metropolitan areas.


Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is the Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Rabbi Pesner collaborates with Reform congregations and communities across North America and in Israel.  He develops new strategies and innovations to advance the goals of the Reform Movement. An alumnus of the North American Federation of Temple Youth and URJ Eisner Camp, he also leads the Campaign for Youth Engagement, a bold initiative to retain teens in Jewish life after they become b'nai mitzvah. Additionally, Rabbi Pesner teaches on all four campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Prior to joining the senior leadership of the URJ, Rabbi Pesner served as the Founding Director of Just Congregations, the groundbreaking community organizing effort of the URJ.  In that role, he led efforts to engage thousands of members of congregations to join together in successful campaigns for health care access, affordable housing, public education, gay and lesbian rights, nursing care workers rights, and living wage. In 2010, Rabbi Pesner was honored with the Rabbinic Award by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) for his leadership in the Boston community, and is currently serving as the scholar-in-residence of CJP's "Acharai" leadership development program. In an earlier role as a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston, from 1999-2006 -- and a leader of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization -- Rabbi Pesner led the Massachusetts "Affordable Care Today!" coalition that successfully secured health care for more than half a million uninsured residents of the Commonwealth. Rabbi Pesner's first pulpit position was at Temple Israel in Westport, CT, from 1997-1999. Rabbi Pesner is the founding Chair of the Board of JOIN for Justice (the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network) and served as Chair of the Board of the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOI). He has served on the board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Jewish Memorial Hospital and the Task Force on Congregation-Based Community Organizing of the Jewish Funds for Justice. Rabbi Pesner has written numerous journal articles, and has contributed essays to a variety of publications. He was the Meyer W. Nathans Scholar at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion where he was ordained in 1997. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Rabbi Pesner is married to Boston attorney, Dana S. Gershon. Together they have four daughters, Juliet, Noa, Bobbie and Cate.


Rae Ringel

Rae Ringel is a certified executive coach and founding President of The Ringel Group. She is a faculty member at the Georgetown University Institute for Transformational Leadership and was recognized in 2013 by the International Coaching Federation for excellence in the field. Rae is in high demand as an innovator in the areas of coaching, facilitation and training across sectors. She enables a growing list of executives in some of the most successful Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and government agencies to become more effective managers and stronger communicators with a formidable leadership presence. In cooperation with the Center for Leadership Initiatives, Rae runs an ongoing facilitation-training program for executives and business owners from around the world. Rae offers deep experience in the areas of fundraising and board development. Prior to starting the The Ringel Group, Rae was the Director of Professional and Volunteer Development at United Jewish Communities, a two-billion dollar annual enterprise that provides global humanitarian and development assistance. In this capacity, Rae devised an award-winning interactive web-based training program and myriad conferences in service of over 20,000 professionals and volunteers. Rae is a Phi Beta Kappa Graduate of the University of Rochester. She received her Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, and earned her Leadership Coaching certification from Georgetown University. She was a Wexner Graduate Fellow and now holds a faculty position with the Wexner Foundation. Rae lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and four children.  


Rabbi Uri Topolosky

Rabbi Uri Topolosky is the Rabbi of the Beth Joshua Congregation in Rockville, MD and the Rav HaKehillah of the MJB Hebrew Academy. Uri served previously as the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans for six years where he helped revitalize a community shattered by Hurricane Katrina. Uri received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and was a member of the second graduating class in 2005. Uri interned throughout his rabbinic studies at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in Bronx, NY, and served later as their Associate Rabbi. Prior to his rabbinic studies, Uri studied at Yeshivat Sha'alvim, earned a BA in Communication from the University of Maryland, and completed a Leadership Training Course with the Isralight Institute in Jerusalem. Uri is also a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Uri is married to Dahlia, a psychologist, and they are blessed with four children, Elyon, Itai, Adi, and Liat.