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New Martin Pear Israel Fellowship Will Nurture JCC Professionals’ Relationship to Jewish State

January 11, 2023

Hannah Gavin, West End Strategy Team, [email protected]

New Martin Pear Israel Fellowship Will Nurture JCC Professionals’ Relationship to Jewish State
The 18-month program, which includes a 10-day Israel trip, is named for a longtime executive director who strove to elevate the profession of Jewish communal work

NEW YORK — Today, JCC Association of North America named the inaugural cohort of The Martin Pear Israel Fellowship, designed to develop and retain JCC talent by welcoming early-tenure professionals within the movement into an 18-month program, including 12 months of education—in-person gatherings, web-based learning, and a rigorous, immersive Israel experience—and six months of project implementation.

The fellowship honors Martin Pear, z”l, longtime JCC CEO and one of the field’s most beloved leaders, who believed strongly that all Jewish professionals should anchor their practice in a passionate commitment to Israel. The Pear Fellowship will transform JCC Association’s ability to educate, train, and retain professionals who are early in their tenure with the JCC Movement and empower and equip the fellows themselves to explore their own relationship to Judaism and link their experience to the work at their own JCC and the movement’s more than 170 JCCs.

“JCC Association is honored to launch The Martin Pear Israel Fellowship, dedicated to offering new-to-our-movement professionals unique experiences that enable them to build and strengthen connections between their JCC communities and Israel and the Jewish people.” said Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association. “The impact of the fellowship on our pursuit of greater Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life will extend through the fellows to their JCC colleagues and to all those for whom the JCC serves as the Jewish community’s town square.”

The fellowship, part of JCC Talent, will consist of annual cohorts of approximately 20 professionals, and is open to early-tenure, full-time employees new to Jewish Community Centers or Jewish Community Camps. Applicants must be interested in building a career within the JCC Movement and able to commit to remaining at their current JCC for at least two years. The Pear Fellowship is made possible by a generous, multi-year gift to JCC Association.

JCC Association is devoted to developing the talent of the JCC workforce and continuing to attract the best and brightest to its work. With more than 10,000 full-time professionals, over 20,000 part-time staff, and 17,000 seasonal staff, the movement is the largest employer on North America’s Jewish communal landscape.

“At JCC Association, the importance of investing in our workforce cannot be overstated. The Martin Pear Israel Fellowship provides a singular opportunity for some of our newer staff to gain the experiences that will enable them to find personal ties to the work and build meaningful careers within the JCC Movement,” said Jennifer Mamlet, executive vice president of JCC Association.

The cornerstone of the fellowship will be a 10-day intensive seminar in Israel, which will be anchored by monthly education sessions leading up to and following the Israel experience. Pear Fellows, inspired by their experience, will implement a project that brings Israel to their JCC in a new and purposeful way and will overlap with the following cohort by six months to execute and report on their projects, engage in evaluation, and interact with their colleagues.

To learn more about Martin Pear, z”l, read this blog post.

The following individuals will make up the inaugural cohort: 

Judy Ben-Ami is the Jewish cultural and adult programing director at the Schenectady JCC in New York, where she plans various programs, including the Jewish film festival, the celebration series that commemorates all Jewish holidays, the LEV (Learning, Enrichment, and Volunteering opportunities) senior monthly program, art exhibits, and lectures. She previously held several other positions at the JCC. The inaugural recipient of the Schenectady JCC’s Customer Service Award, Ben-Ami is the only staff member who has received the award twice. She also was honored with the Woman of Valor Award by Congregation Agudat Achim. Ben-Ami was born in Mexico where she attended Hebrew school and immersed herself in Zionism and Jewish culture and customs. She lives with her husband in Niskayuna, a town in Schenectady County in northeastern New York. She loves the dynamic changing of colors in the spring and fall, gardening in the summer, and the peaceful winters. 

Allison Cohen is the chief of communications at the Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island, N.Y., where, as a member of the executive team, she oversees all marketing, media relations, and community outreach. Throughout her career, she has focused on social media marketing and adapting to new media trends. Cohen previously was the director of communications and external affairs for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. She also worked at NY1 News and “Dateline NBC.” Cohen volunteers as a foundation board member of Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) and treasurer of the American Heart Association’s Have A Heart Foundation. Previously she co-chaired SunriseWALKS to help send kids with cancer and their siblings to summer camp and RUMC’s annual gala. She is a winner of SIEDC’s 20 Under 40 Award. A graduate of Vassar College, she volunteers for the Generation Vassar campaign.

Dara Cohen is the active adult and senior programming director at the Trager Family JCC in Louisville, Ky., and loves to teach seniors about the Jewish holidays, history, and rituals. She serves on the JCC’s holidays in the lobby committee and the Israeli street fair committee. She has a background as a pastry chef and is a volunteer fundraiser and a “fun-raiser” for the Sonny and Janet Meyer Food Pantry. Cohen enjoys bringing what she knows to the table—including in cooking and craft classes. During the fall she participated in the Partner 2 Partner program to Budapest, an enriching experience that has led her to share talks on the history of Jewish Budapest, the Neolog movement, and the effect Communism has had on the Jews of Hungary.

Corey Cravens is the director of after school programming at the Tucson JCC, Ariz. His award-winning J-Care after school program enrolls 130 participants who daily experience an informal, recreational learning environment designed to focus on a different Jewish value each week. J-Care lets youth discover and grow in the areas of cooking, fine arts, performing arts, and physical fitness. Cravens has dedicated his entire career to youth development and considers himself an expert. Prior to his current role, he spent 10 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs as a club director and several years with YMCAs of Southern Arizona. During the summer, Cravens switches hats to become the assistant director of camping services, supporting the daily operations of Summer Camp J. He enjoys golfing, hiking, and running, as well as relaxing in a hammock with his cat, KC.

Fran Forman is the senior director of early childhood education and programs at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in San Diego, California, where she oversees engagement opportunities and high-quality programs for newborns and their parents and preschoolers and school-age children and their extended families. Previously Forman spent decades in progressively responsible positions in the non-profit and early care and education community in California and Massachusetts, focusing on services for poor families. Forman grew up in New York with parents who were involved in the JCC and social justice movements. She lived for 10 years in Mexico City where she taught in a Jewish school and was surrounded by Sephardic family members. Forman has two adult children, Victor and Estela, and two grandsons who live nearby.

Tanika Francis is the operations director of youth services at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center (MMCC) in Bronx, N.Y., where she oversees seven fee-for-service programs, reception, and the Mosholu Day Camp, which, under her leadership, was accredited by the American Camping Association. Through her work, she helps meet the needs of a diverse group of youth and families in the community, a role that comes naturally to her. Francis began her tenure at MMCC as a counselor in the after-school program while she attended Lehman College full time, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and early childhood education. Education is valued in Francis’ family of educators who immigrated to the U.S. from St. Kitt-Nevis, where family members held leadership roles in politics. She credits this involvement in politics with her ability to grow rapidly into her current administrative role. Francis recently completed the Baruch Leadership Fellows, offered by the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.

Geri Garfinkel-Gershon is the Jewish lifelong engagement director for the Asheville Jewish Community Center in North Carolina. In this role, she creates social, educational, and cultural experiences through a Jewish lens for families and adults. Formerly, she was a Jewish educator for nearly 30 years, teaching seminars for adults and teens and religious school for children and spent 18 years teaching language skills to a variety of learners using the multi-sensory Orton Gillingham approach. Garfinkel-Gershon is an engaging vocalist and speaker, experienced in myriad Jewish topics from holiday observances and traditions to what it means to be created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. She is skilled in creating presentations that are relevant and engaging for audiences of various ages and faith backgrounds. Garfinkel-Gershon’s involvement in the JCC Movement started when she was three years old and attended preschool at the JCC in Norwalk, Conn.

Danielle Glass is the director of culture and development at the Katie & Irwin Kahn JCC in Columbia, S.C. Following several years of limited cultural programming because of the pandemic, she created new and relevant events and experiences for members and brought “Jewish back to the J.” In addition to cultural programming, Glass oversees fundraising events, Camp Gesher and the Arline & Gerald Polinksy Columbia Jewish Film Festival. Previously, Glass worked at synagogues in Milwaukee and suburban Chicago and has extensive Jewish communal experience in areas that include family programming, membership, special events, kosher catering, and communications. She holds a master’s degree in education from DePaul University in Chicago, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Glass lives in Columbia, S.C., with her family. In addition to her involvement in the Jewish community, she enjoys painting rocks, reading, and cooking.

Rene Kariel is director of the Ellen Boniuk Early Childhood School, a satellite campus of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston. She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Kariel moved to Houston in 2008 with her husband, who is a native Houstonian. She is no stranger to the Jewish communal profession, having worked at both the Jewish Federation and the J for a total of nearly 15 years. In her many roles, her top priority always has been to make Judaism accessible and engaging for all. Her work to recruit participants and staff trips to Israel has helped more than 125 young adults visit the country. Kariel, her husband, Jason, and their two children live in Katy, Texas.

Jackie Laban, originally from Columbia, S.C., graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in Jewish studies. After working for the Charleston school district, she sought a career that would connect her love of working with children and her Jewish roots. In 2018, Laban joined the Jewish Educational Alliance (JEA) in Savannah, Ga., as the assistant director of the children’s and camp departments and an engagement coordinator for the Savannah Jewish Federation. Through her work, she helps manage various programs, including before and after school care, Kids’ Night Out, summer camp, and the Days at the J Camp. Laban also teaches Jewish and Israeli culture to the wide demographic of youth and staff who come through these programs.

Jim Mahjoubian, chief communications and technology officer for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo, New York, has worked in media production, public education, and the non-profit community for over 20 years. He possesses an unrivaled passion for leadership, collaboration, and mentorship. Among his accomplishments at JCC Buffalo, Mahjoubian launched a school of digital media, an esports program, and a new website and membership system, as well as developed internships for high school and college students. He also began a production service to support partner organizations and the broader community. Mahjoubian previously was the video production specialist for Baltimore City Public Schools, where he mentored youth in media production and was a partner/instructor for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts program, founded by The Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in television and radio from Ithaca College and a master’s degree in education from Cabrini College.

Annette McCann is the director of development for JCC Association of North America. In her role, she works alongside the chief philanthropic officer to lead all fundraising efforts and operations for the Association’s signature programs and strategic initiatives. McCann joined the organization in 2019 as a corporate partnership consultant, responsible for developing a sponsorship strategy and building a case for corporate giving. Prior to her work with JCC Association, she was an accomplished marketing professional, creating cross-platform campaigns and forging groundbreaking partnerships within the media and entertainment industry. A graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, McCann holds an MBA from The Stern School of Business at New York University and recently completed a certificate in fundraising from the NYU School of Professional Studies. McCann loves to run, leads multiple Girl Scout troops in her community, and most notably, is a proud mom of three.

Rebecca Metzger is the assistant camp director and the director of aftercare at the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum JCC in Bridgewater, N.J. She previously worked as the director of a dementia unit in an assisted living facility and as the assistant camp director at a camp for abused and neglected children. Metzger graduated from Hunter College with a degree in community health education. She enjoys spending time with her family, and with three children, there is never a dull moment. Metzger recently traveled with the JCC to Israel for the first time and looks forward to visiting again and immersing herself in the culture and history of the Israeli people.

Gustavo Scarrone, director of the Anita Hausmann Visual Arts Academy at the Michael-Ann Russell JCC (MARJCC) in Miami, Fla., has been studying, creating, teaching, and bringing the world of art to life for many years. Born in Uruguay, Scarrone received a master’s degree in drawing and painting at the Figari School of Arts in Montevideo. Upon immigrating to the United States, Scarrone continued honing his craft by studying the arts at Miami-Dade College and Florida International University, both in Miami. Throughout his career, Scarrone has exhibited his paintings and sculptures in galleries and exhibitions throughout Miami and abroad. In 2018, he led the opening of the new Visual Arts Academy at the MARJCC, which offers programs in art exploration, painting and drawing, ceramics, graphic design, sculpting, screen printing, video editing, and jewelry making. Today, the Academy serves more than 240 participants, ages 3 to 100+, each year.

Lauren Schreiber Sasaki is a Montreal-born, Toronto-based arts and culture programmer who turned her focus to Jewish community. Through her work as the associate director of Jewish community inclusion and engagement at the Miles Nadal JCC in downtown Toronto, she is passionate about creating opportunities in support of “Jewish&” (interfaith/multicultural/mixed heritage…) people and families.  Schreiber Sasaki oversees family-centered and LGBTQ2+ inclusion initiatives, as well as wider-community Jewish life offerings. Schreiber Sasaki was a recipient of JCC Association’s Zahav award for programming excellence in early childhood engagement and education. She is excited to be leaning into her roots while investing in her community and raising two multicultural kids with her partner in Canada’s largest and most diverse urban center. This will be her first time traveling to Israel.

Myranda Tetzlaff is director of camp and youth at the JCC Indianapolis in Indiana, where she previously wore many hats, including as a seasonal employee at Camp JCC, a part-time counselor in the after-school care department, an early childhood education teacher, and as the assistant director of camp and youth, all of which fulfilled her passion for working with children. Tetzlaff and her fiancé met when they both were counselors at Camp JCC Indy, and they plan to marry in September 2023! They have two beautiful rescue dogs, Bub and Goose.

Rina Wagman attended preschool and camp at the Siegel JCC in Wilmington, Del., and is now the director of the annual campaign at the JCC Greater Boston in Massachusetts. Prior to joining the development team at the JCC, Wagman worked in development for the Jewish National Fund (JNF). She also worked at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Missions and Leadership Development. Wagman is a graduate of Cornell University and earned a master’s degree and an MBA at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, where she was an iCenter iFellow and Olshansky Award recipient. When she’s not working, Wagman enjoys teaching Israeli dance at the JCC and throughout the community.

Leah Zigmond is the early childhood education director at the Valley of the Sun JCC in Scottsdale, Ariz. Zigmond previously had a career as a camp director for Jewish overnight camps including Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia, Camp Judaea in North Carolina, and Camp Daisy and Harry Stein in Arizona. She has more than 25 years of experience engaging children, teens, and adults in innovative educational programs in Israel and the United States. Zigmond earned a doctorate in education from Northeastern University. When she is not working, she enjoys time with her husband and two teenage sons.


About JCC Association of North America
JCC Association of North America leads the JCC Movement, which includes more than 170 Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps (JCCs) and is the most expansive platform for Jewish life in the U.S. and Canada. With 10,000 full-time professionals, 20,000 part-time staff, and 17,000 seasonal staff, the movement also is the largest employer on North America’s Jewish communal landscape. For more than a century, JCC Association has valued and nurtured the growth of these professionals, along with the movement’s 3,000+ lay leaders, providing them all with a breadth and depth of offerings to help them meet the evolving needs of the 1.5 million weekly in-person and online visitors they serve, including individuals, families, communal groups, and others. By virtue of its size and scope and guided and supported by JCC Association, the JCC Movement dynamically influences efforts to create Jewish community, vibrant Jewish life, and intentional and measurable Jewish outcomes—in local communities and across the continent. Learn more at or on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Please note that JCC Association of North America should not be referred to as JCCA or the JCC Association but initially as JCC Association of North America and as JCC Association in subsequent references.

JCC Talent elevates JCC professionals and lay leaders and the workplaces they serve by offering experiences and initiatives that enhance Jewish knowledge, foster cultures of inclusion and belonging, and strengthen the JCC Movement’s talent infrastructure. Learn more in the JCC Resource Center or email [email protected].

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