2021-22 Year 1 Faculty

Year 1 Faculty speak to the major issues facing our time.

AMBASSADOR DENNIS ROSS

WILLIAM DAVIDSON DISTINGUISHED FELLOW WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAREST POLICY

AMBASSADOR DENNIS ROSS

A scholar and diplomat with more than two decades of experience in Soviet and Middle East policy, Ambassador Ross worked closely with Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. Prior to his service as special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, Ambassador Ross served as director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff in the first Bush administration. In that capacity, he played a prominent role in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control negotiations, and the 1991 Gulf War coalition.

YOLANDA SAVAGE-NARVA

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION UNDERSTANDING DC

YOLANDA SAVAGE-NARVA

Yolanda Savage-Narva has devoted her professional career to helping people live their best and most healthy lives. For a little over 20 years, Yolanda’s has collaborated with Tribal governments to strengthen public health systems, promoted pedestrian safety and advocacy and coining the phrase, “Walking is a civil right,” and advance health equity in states ad territories. Yolanda currently holds the position of executive director with Operation Understanding DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting understanding, cooperation, and respect while fighting to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination.

JEREMY BURTON

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JCRC

JEREMY BURTON

Jeremy Burton is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC). Through advocacy, organizing, service and partnerships JCRC defines and advances the values, interests and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square.

Previously he was the Senior Vice President of Programs at the Jewish Funds for Justice, and Vice President of Programs at the Jewish Funders Network. Jeremy also served as a board member of Keshet, working for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life.

RABBI JACOB BLUMENTHAL

HEAD OF THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY

RABBI JACOB BLUMENTHAL

Since Rabbi Blumenthal joined the RA as Chief Executive, he has initiated organizational and cultural change through the Zera’im project, in addition to meeting with rabbis from North America, Latin America, and Israel to hear and address their concerns. He has fostered relationships with key Jewish communal leadership and hosted a webinar series bringing rabbis together from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements on the topic of understanding anti-Semitism today.

SENATOR JAMIE RASKIN

SENATOR JAMIE RASKIN

Congressman Jamie Raskin proudly represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district includes Montgomery, Carroll, and Frederick Counties. Congressman Raskin was sworn into his third Term at the start of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2021.

This is Rep. Raskin’s third term serving on the House Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the Committee on House Administration.

This is his second term serving on the Rules Committee and the Coronavirus Select Subcommittee. He was also renamed Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Chair of the Rules Subcommittee on Expedited Procedures for the 117th Congress.

RABBI MICHAEL SAFRA

SENIOR RABBI, B'NAI ISRAEL CONGREGATION

RABBI MICHAEL SAFRA

Rabbi Michael Safra joined B’nai Israel after his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2002.  While in rabbinical school, Rabbi Safra served as rabbinic intern at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ.  He received his BA in history and Judaic studies from the University of Michigan and holds a Master’s Degree in Bible from the Graduate School at JTS.

At B’nai Israel, Rabbi Safra is primarily interested in strengthening congregational life through education at all levels.  He continues to work to broaden the variety of learning opportunities available to all members of the community and to engage people in various aspects of this dynamic community.  Committed to the Jewish community as a whole, Rabbi Safra is a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly Washington/Baltimore region. He serves on the boards of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA), Camp Ramah in New England, and the National Rabbinic Cabinet of Israel Bonds. He frequently teaches for various programs and groups in the Washington area.

LAURA WALLACE

SENIOR ORGANIZER, JEWS UNITED FOR JUSTICE

LAURA WALLACE

Laura Wallace is the Montgomery County Senior Organizer for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), which organizes over 14,000 Jews and allies from across DC and Maryland to act on our shared Jewish values by pursuing social and economic justice and racial equity in our local communities. Laura coordinates all of our County-level issue campaigns and works with our Baltimore team to run JUFJ’s statewide Maryland campaigns. Current campaigns include eviction prevention, reimagining public safety, and paid family and medical leave. Laura led JUFJ’s participation in the successful Fight For $15 campaign in Montgomery County and in Maryland, and was instrumental in our successful campaign for earned sick leave at both the county and state level. Prior to joining the staff of JUFJ, Laura was a leader with JUFJ and Action in Montgomery, the Montgomery County IAF affiliate. She has worked for Jewish organizations including the Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies and the Masorti Movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel. Laura lives in Rockville with her husband and two children.

RABBI HANAN SCHLESINGER

DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND CO-FOUNDER, ROOTS/SHORASHIM/JUDUR

RABBI HANAN SCHLESINGER

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives in Alon Shvut Israel and is one of the founders of Roots/Shorashim/Judur, The Palestinian Israeli Grassroots Initiative for Understanding, Nonviolence and Transformation. Currently he serves as its Director of International Relations. He also is the founder of the American Friends of Roots, a multi-faith organization dedicated to supporting the work of Roots/Shorashim/Judur. Rav Hanan frequently speaks in the USA together with one of his Palestinian partner about the amazing work of Roots/Shorashim/Judur.

Prior to the founding of Roots, Rav Hanan spent his whole career teaching Jewish studies in various seminaries, colleges and frameworks in the Jerusalem area, among them the Pardes Institute, Beit Midrash Elul, Nishmat and Yeshivat Bat Ayin. He also spent two years as part of the Judaic Fellows Program in Boca Raton Florida and over ten years in Dallas Texas, first as Rosh Kollel of the Community Kollel and later as founder and Executive Director and Community Rabbinic Scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas.

He and his Israeli–born wife Ayala have four grown children and ten grandchildren. 

NOOR A'WAD

ROOTS/SHORASHIM/JUDUR

NOOR A'WAD

Born to Palestinian parents, Noor and his family moved from Amman, Jordan to Beit Sahour following the signing of the Oslo Accords. There, he began engaging with his identity as a Palestinian refugee, both in violent and nonviolent ways. While studying to become a tour guide, Noor traveled to Israel and for the first time saw Israelis beyond the lens of “occupying soldiers” which put him on a path of intense rethinking about the reality of the conflict. In 2012, Noor was licensed by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. 

In 2016, Noor was asked to bring an overseas group he was guiding to hear Rabbi Schlesinger speak at Roots. He was profoundly challenged by what he heard, and after a series of intense, mind-expanding meetings with the rabbi and later with Ali Abu Awwad, in which he heard things he had never heard before, Noor became a Roots activist. Later Noor became the Palestinian English-language Roots spokesperson, in which capacity he has spoken to thousands of overseas visitors and given them an incisive, honest and introspective perspective on Palestinian identity and experience, on the conflict, and on Roots’ role within it in the arduous journey towards a solution. Today Noor is a member of the leadership team of Roots.

Noor resides in Bethlehem, where – when he is not working with Roots – he guides English-speakers on geopolitical tours of the region.

RABBI MARC ISRAEL

RABBI MARC ISRAEL

Rabbi Israel has served as the spiritual leader of Tikvat Israel since June 2019. He previously served as associate rabbi of Temple Beth Hillel–Beth El in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood for 6 years and was the rabbi educator at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase for eight years.

Rabbi Israel graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1992. He earned his rabbinic ordination in 1998 from the Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion, and he joined the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in 2007. Since 2008, he has also served as “Rosh Ropes” at Camp Ramah in New England.

Rabbi Israel is married to Abbey Frank and they have three children.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Thomas L. Friedman became the paper’s foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist in 1995. He joined the paper in 1981, after which he served as the Beirut bureau chief in 1982, Jerusalem bureau chief in 1984, and then in Washington as the diplomatic correspondent in 1989, and later the White House correspondent and economic correspondent.

Mr. Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Lebanon) and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Israel). He also won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Mr. Friedman is the author of “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award in 1989. He has written several other books, including “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” an international bestseller.

JUDITH HEUMANN

JUDITH HEUMANN

Judith Ellen Heumann, “Judy” is an international disability rights activist from the United States of America. She is recognized internationally as a leader in the disability community. Heumann is a lifelong civil rights advocate for people with disabilities. Her work with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profits, and various other disability interest groups, has produced significant contributions since the 1970s to the development of human rights legislation and policies benefiting children and adults with disabilities. Through her work in the World Bank and the State Department, Heumann led the mainstreaming of disability rights into international development. Her contributions extended the international reach of the independent living movement.

Heumann recently published two books Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist and Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution.

Heumann is also one of the central focuses of the documentary ‘Crip Camp’ and her story has been told on shows Trevor Noah (March 4, 2020), Ted Talk 2016, and Drunk History.

ETHAN FELSON

Executive Director of A Wider Bridge

ETHAN FELSON

Ethan Felson is the Executive Director of A Wider Bridge. Ethan has more than 30 of experience as an out and proud professional in the Jewish community. He has served in national leadership roles with the Jewish Federations of North America, directing its Israel Action Network, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Before that, he served as Assistant Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and director of its Jewish Community Relations Council in Hartford, CT. He has been a staunch Israel advocate, and a pioneer in the interfaith arena and people-to-people peacebuilding. He founded Interfaith Partners for Peace which brings rabbis and pastors together in dialogue and action. He has led numerous missions to Israel, including one in 2019 with LGBTQ Christian clergy co-sponsored with A Wider Bridge. He serves on UJAPride with the UJA/Federation of New York. His LGBTQ activism, though, started as a student activist, as the co-founder of the lesbian and gay student union at Lehigh University and co-chair of the Northeast Lesbian and Gay Student Union in the 1980’s. He helped pass hate crimes and civil rights legislation in Connecticut as a leader with the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project. He served as Vice-Chair of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union and on the national board of the ACLU. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law and admitted to the bar in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He is proudest of Hannah and Seth, his twin children with husband Daniel – and his greatest hope is that his work with A Wider Bridge helps build a safer world for them and all of us.