Interns develop their working chops in Kohn program

Lena Elkins began working at American Jewish World Service in early June, just in time to help prepare for AJWS’ involvement with the 31st annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

As a Kohn intern, Elkins spent the majority of her summer promoting the screening of the documentary “Phnom Penh Lullaby,” which AJWS co-sponsored at the festival. The film explores poverty by focusing on a Cambodian-Israeli couple, one of the many issues the agency has dedicated itself to improving.

“I’m learning a ton about every department within AJWS and the different types of projects we work on in the developing world,” she said. “It’s been incredible to be a part of this powerful and successful organization.”

For Elkins, a sophomore at the University of Oregon, working at AJWS is a dream come true. As a result of her experience this summer, she hopes to pursue a career at the agency after graduation.

Lena Elkins is an intern at American Jewish World Service, where she one day hopes to have a career.

Elkins is one of 27 Bay Area college students participating in the Kohn summer internship program — an eight-week work experience sponsored by Jewish Vocational Service of San Francisco.

JVS has placed more than 400 students eager to experience the 9-to-5 workday in Bay Area Jewish nonprofit agencies since the program began in 1986.

This year’s number of intern and agency applicants exceeded the program’s capacity, according to Rebecca Goodman, Jewish programs coordinator at JVS and head of the Kohn program.

Interns work four days a week at their respective agencies and gather on Fridays at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. The students, who are assigned to 22 different nonprofits, come together to hear professional speakers, develop career skills, build a portfolio and share experiences with fellow participants.

Marc Dollinger, professor of Jewish studies at San Francisco State University, was one of many speakers this summer; he led the Kohn group in a discussion about Jews in California.

Along with speakers and workshops, Kohn interns also are offered leadership opportunities within the group, for instance the chance to organize an activity for Kabbalat Shabbat to welcome the Sabbath.

“The workshops are great because you’re receiving individual attention from members of the JVS and beyond about how to become a competitive applicant in the workforce. Yet at the same time, you get to bond and create new friendships,” said Asal Ehsanipour, a sophomore at the University of Southern California who has been an intern with JIMENA, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.

Michael Benesch spends his days at the Anti-Defamation League, compiling educational resources, monitoring anti-Israel protests and assisting with litigation against a ballot measure that would have banned most circumcision in San Francisco.

“I love seeing the ADL in action,” the intern said. “Whether it is helping an individual with a discrimination complaint, teaching students about biases or campaigning for or against legislation, I can see the direct impact the ADL’s work has on society.”

Working at such a large organization is a new experience for Benesch. He said the internship has reinforced the importance of advocating for the Jewish community and said he plans to become more active in Jewish activities when he returns to Pomona College near Los Angeles.

Like many of the interns, Adam Berman was involved in Jewish activities in high school, taking classes at his local synagogue and going on a trip to Israel.

“The Kohn program was perfect for this summer,” said Berman, a sophomore at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania who was looking for professional work when he heard about Kohn.

Berman is an intern in the JCF’s leadership development department, where he has been working with the Young Adult Division. YAD offers young Jewish adults a broad range of social, philanthropic and leadership activities and events.

“This internship has taught me a lot about nonprofit work and its various challenges,” he said. “Speaking with the past presidents of YAD is helping me to understand what has worked in the past and how the federation can better assist the community at large in the future.”

Berman also has been tasked with editing the board of trustees’ manual, making sure it is up-to-date.

Though the program ends Aug. 19, the interns still have much to anticipate.

In these closing weeks, they will have the chance to attend the Hazon food conference in Davis, hear guest speakers and do some additional résumé-building activities.

“As we spend more and more time together and in our agencies, the enthusiasm for individual projects continues to grow. But even more so than that, I have seen other interns believing in each other’s agencies and individual projects, which creates a unique sense of community amongst us,” said Ehsanipour.

Funding for the program comes from JCF’s Jewish Community Endowment Kohn Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. Additional funding comes from a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Milton and Sophie Meyer Fund.

The following is a list of the 2011 JVS Kohn interns and their agencies:

Michael Benesch (Anti-Defamation League); Adam Berman (JCF, Leadership Development); Amalia Bob-Waksberg (Shalom Bayit); Amelia Cohen (Congregation Beth Sholom); Sarah Cohen (Institute for Curriculum Services); Rebecca DeHovitz (Jewish Family and Children’s Services); Asal Ehsanipour (JIMENA); Lena Elkins (American Jewish World Service); Shoshana Gould (Jewish Family and Children’s Services); Leah Guliasi (JCC of San Francisco, Marketing Department); Joshua Hubert (Peninsula Jewish Community Center); Hanna Jones (the Contemporary Jewish Museum); Lauren Klafter (Chai Preschool); Elizabeth Levin (Hazon); Rachel Levinson (G-dcast); Rachel Levy (j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California); Gary Podvalny (JCF, Marketing Department); David Puyandayev (the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life); Paula Reves (Diller Teen Initiative); Kinneret Rogers (Jewish Partisan Education Foundation); Jonathan Rosen (Camp Tawonga); Madeleine Simpson (Jewish Family and Children’s Services); Maryana Sklovskaya (Jewish Community Relations Council); Emma Snyder (Congregation Beth El and Midrasha in Berkeley); Eliot Storch (j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California); Maya Sussman (JVS, Technology Access Center); and Gabi Tripolsky (AIPAC).