Kohn interns explore local Jewish nonprofit world

Jeremy Avins, a student at Yale, thinks he may have given some of his bar mitzvah money to the Anti-Defamation League. Now, he’s doing something more hands-on: He’s working there.

Avins is one of 33 college students in this year’s Kohn Summer Intern Program. Established in 1986, Kohn is about a number of things: getting work experience, exploring volunteer opportunities and discussing issues central to the Jewish community.

Kohn Director Mara Kassoff, with Jewish Community Programs at Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco, says she and Associate Director Sarah Accomazzo try to tailor the work experience and the issues addressed to the interests of participants.

Interns are currently working at a wide range of organizations, including Shalom Bayit, which counsels, supports and advocates for Jewish battered women; the Jewish Home in San Francisco; and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. The two-month internships wrap up Aug. 10.

Interns’ activities vary widely, from direct service to research and writing.

At the ADL, for example, Avins reads the news, looking for quotations from the ADL, unreported hate crimes and anything that strikes him as “anti-Israel.”

He also is working on an anti-Semitism workshop for one of the Kohn Friday sessions, where interns get together to discuss issues. Avins wants to eventually work in Arab-Israeli relations, and says his work at the ADL “is really good exposure to the world and something I care deeply about.”

Julie Bressler is with the Institute for Curriculum Services, a relatively new program of the Jewish Community Relations Council. The institute focuses on promoting accurate instructional materials on Jews, Judaism and Israel. This includes monitoring how Jewish history is told in textbooks.

Bressler wanted to work where she could do something substantive — hence the Kohn internship. She is studying history and women’s studies at Washington University and wants to become a doctor.

At the institute, she’s researching state “standards of learning” in the public schools, including what has to go into textbooks. (Textbooks compete to be listed among those approved by the state.) Bressler is working with one textbook in particular to assess the way Judaism is addressed. “The vastness of the story needs to be told,” she says.

Daniel Riff, another Washington University student, is spending the summer at the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness about the 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who lived in the hills and forests of Eastern Europe resisting the Nazis.

Riff is doing some office work, but he’s also been watching a movie — a mini-biography, the testimony of a female Jewish partisan who moved to Canada after the war. His job is to pick out the pieces that are important for the foundation’s work on lesson plans and other educational materials.

Riff sees significance in this work. When it comes to the Holocaust, he says, “what people think of is Jews being marched into camps and into gas chambers.” They often regard the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as an anomaly and don’t know that many Jews — including the partisans — put up a valiant struggle against the Nazis.

Riff’s goal is to help tell stories that might otherwise be left untold.

The interns all come together for Friday sessions at the Federation building, where they check in with one another and troubleshoot issues they have encountered at work. They also listen to speakers and participate in workshops on topics like workplace etiquette, resume improvement and a values workshop (led by Abby Snay of JVS) to help them choose fulfilling careers.

This coming-together is valuable, Bressler explained. “It’s really nice — probably the best part, for all the interns to come together and talk about their experiences.”

The other Kohn interns are: Andrew Benkovich at Jewish Vocational Service; Neta Berger at Jewish National Fund; Michelle Bloom at BBYO; Annie Brown at Contra Costa JCC; Vladimir Chernitskiy at JVS; Penina Eilberg-Schwartz at j.; Alexandra Farber at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation; Sophia Fong-Cohen at the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; Hallie Forman at AIPAC; Laiah Idelson at Shalom Bayit; Inna Inker at the Contemporary Jewish Museum; Hilary Jacobsen at Jewish Family and Children’s Services; Olga Kreimer at the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford University Medical Center; Michelle Lauris at Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center; Shayna Lesovoy at the Peninsula JCC; Joshua Leybin at the Jewish Community Relations Council; Karen Marcus at j.; Rachel Marder at j.; Alex Mondry-Cohen at the Jewish Home; Sara Moore at JVS; Shelley Murveit at JFCS; Becca Neril at the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay; Stacy Petersohn at Congregation Emmanu-El; Adam Rosenzweig at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy; Dana Sherne at the East Bay JFCS; Naomi Shiffman at Hadassah; Lauren Statman at the Koret Foundation; Michelle Vaysberg at the S.F.-based JCF; Simone Wolk at the Holocaust Center of Northern California.

Penina Eilberg-Schwartz
Penina Eilberg-Schwartz

Penina Eilberg-Schwartz is a member of IfNotNow and a former intern at J. She grew up in Palo Alto and is currently working on a book about the life of Palestinian peace activist Sulaiman Khatib.