33 Kohn interns get hands-on experience at Jewish agencies

Like her fellow Kohn interns, Shira Leeder does not have much job experience. She has interned at the district office of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto). She has interned at a Veterans Administration hospital. And now she is interning at Jewish Vocational Service.

But when it comes time for her to look for a job, Leeder faces additional challenges. She has cerebral palsy, and relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around. Her hearing and speech are impaired.

“Every day I have difficulty,” she said. “People don’t think about the things I have to think about, like just how to get my wheelchair from point A to point B. Everything I do takes double the time.”

Leeder, a student at U.C. Berkeley and a Palo Alto native, is one of 33 Kohn interns in the 19th year of the program administered by Jewish Vocational Service, and funded by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

“We had 54 separate requests for interns this year,” said Rebecca Bassin, director of the Kohn program, which places college students at various Jewish agencies throughout the Bay Area. “There’s a huge need for them in the community, but we only have funding for 33.”

The interns range in Jewish upbringing, said Bassin, with a handful of them Israeli, and many with interfaith parents.

“Some have a strong Jewish identity, whether it’s spiritual, religious or cultural, and for a lot of them, this is their first foray into Jewish community involvement.”

Interns spend four days a week at their placement, and on Fridays they are together, mostly in activities that teach them about the Jewish community.

“We’ve responded to feedback from the interns over the past few years, and this year we’re spending more time outside of the room where we usually spend our Fridays,” said Bassin.

For example, Leeder recently led a workshop on disability-awareness for her fellow interns, “and people now understand where I’m coming from. After doing it, they started to feel more comfortable around me, and that I’m like everybody else.”

It’s hard being the only disabled person in the group, she admitted. And at 25, she’s a few years older than her fellow interns. Furthermore, “People have never been around a person with disabilities,” she said. “I’m like a role model for them.”

At JVS, Leeder is working with Joblink, doing administrative support such as filing, and helping other disabled people find jobs. “In general, it takes six to nine months for a disabled person to find a job,” she said. “It’s not that easy.”

Leeder has major job aspirations for herself. While it will take her a few more years to finish college — she’s a double major in disability studies and communications — she would love to work for Walt Disney, Pixar, or run for Senate someday. Or even, perhaps, for president.

Later this month, Leeder will attend a leadership-training seminar in Washington, D.C., focusing on disability rights.

Marshall Werner, an employment specialist with JVS’ Joblink, is Leeder’s supervisor and has great faith in her future. “Part of JVS’ mission is giving and giving back,” said Werner. “I can envision that through our selecting Shira’s application, someday when she’s in the Senate, she’ll be in the position to help JVS.”

Laura Safdie is another U.C. Berkeley student and Kohn intern. From Cupertino, the 19-year-old is working for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel Crisis Center.

Safdie, who plans to double major in political science and environmental economics, is working on three projects: an analysis of an East Bay media outlet on its Mideast coverage; organizing a program to bring speakers of various backgrounds to campuses to talk about peace and coexistence in the Middle East; and conducting a study on how the anti-globalization movement has affected the anti-Western and anti-Israel movement in the Bay Area.

In addition to doing the research, Safdie said she is making valuable contacts.

“I’ve met with so many different groups and committees, and am meeting people who can teach me a lot about the Jewish community and Jewish life,” she said. “That is the best part of this.”

Where they are spending their ‘summer vacations’

Kohn interns placed at a number of Jewish agencies this summer. Other interns are: Joel Abramovitz at Bureau of Jewish Education; Julie Aronowitz at Jewish National Fund; Marisa Balch at New Bridges to Jewish Community; Emily Berenberg at Midrasha of the East Bay; Jeremy Falk Blatteis at the New Israel Fund; David Drabkin at the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal; Anna Frenklach at the Jewish Community Foundation (East Bay); Alea Gage at the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; Talya Gates-Monasch at Shalom Bayit; Jordan Gerstler-Holton at Jewish Community Relations Council (S.F.); Charlotte Goodwin at Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay; Ariele Greenfield at Congregation Beth Am; Daniel W. Harris at Joshua Venture; Jessica Harris at Jewish Family and Children’s Services (S.F.); Rachel Illowsky at Citizen Film; Miya Keren at the Anti-Defamation League (S.F.); Gabriela Kipnis at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; Chloe Kiritz at the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project (Burlingame); Alina Krupetsky at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation; Sarah Lauing at Congregation Sherith Israel; Janna Levin at Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Mark Lieberwitz at New Bridges to Jewish Community; Julia Malkin at JCRC (S.F.); Samantha Martin-Tytell at The Jewish Home; Judith Aviva Mayer at Camp Tawonga (S.F.); Leeron Morad at the Israel Center (S.F.); Lisa Rozakis at Hadassah (S.F.); Erica Schoenberg at Jewish Vocational Service; Adam Tartakovsky at AIPAC — American Israel Public Affairs Committee; Nia Taylor at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center; Benjamin Weiss at the Anti-Defamation League.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."