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Speakers - Israeli-American Exchanges



Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the Director of the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC),
an international organization whose philosophy reflects Classic Sephardic Judaism’s creative blend of tradition and modernity. Under his leadership, the SEC has become a think tank that specializes in translating the moderate halakhic approach and tolerant worldview of the major rabbinic personalities of the Sephardic tradition. Whether at the SEC’s historic campus in the Old City of Jerusalem or in communities throughout the diaspora, his programs educate students, rabbis and community leaders about Classic Sephardic Judaism’s relevance for today’s Jewish world. He is also the rabbi of the Westwood Village Synagogue (WVS), a vibrant and welcoming Modern Orthodox congregation committed to halakha, intellectual learning, Zionism and women’s issues – all values near and dear to his heart. He holds a BA in History from UCLA and Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshiva University. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel, served in the IDF’s Givati Infantry Brigade and studied S.Y. Agnon’s literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a regular contributor to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, and is working on translating the writings of Rabbi Bension Uziel (Israel’s first Sephardic Chief Rabbi).

Chaya Gilboa is a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Director of Jewish Engagement at the Leichtag Foundation, where she is responsible for Jewish integration and education. Prior to joining Leichtag, she was the Founding Director of Hevruta, a pluralistic, integrated gap-year program for Israeli and North American post-high school students at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Born in Jerusalem to an ultra-Orthodox family, Chaya is committed to creating alternatives within the realm of religion and state, establishing Hashgacha Pratit, an alternative kashrut system, and crafting egalitarian wedding ceremonies and other initiatives that combine feminism and Jewish identity. Gilboa wrote her thesis for her M.A. in Public Policy at Hebrew University on Haredi women, religion and state after completing her BA in Jewish Philosophy at Ben Gurion University.

Dr. Aliza Lavie is a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and a leading author, publicist, and social activist. She is an expert in the role of women in Judaism, Israel-Diaspora relations and pluralism in Israel. As a Member of Knesset for Yesh Atid party from 2013-2019, she chaired both the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and the Caucus on Religion and State, the latter focusing on strengthening Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry and maintaining Israel's commitment to be a Jewish and democratic state. Dr. Lavie’s academic research examines women in Jewish culture and identity, the Jewish world, politics and society. The English version of her book A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book (Random House publisher) won the 2008 National Jewish Book Award. Lavie is a prominent figure in the public conversation on Jewish culture in Israel, where her legislative work, research and writing pull lessons from history and apply them to the current public and political spheres.

Rabbi Erez Sherman is a rabbi at Sinai Temple who has been a leading advocate in the Los Angeles Jewish community for a stronger relationship between American Jews and Israel. While serving as Assistant Rabbi of Shomrei Torah Synagogue from 2009-2014, he created the Israel Ambassador Program, enhanced Israel advocacy for teens and adults, and doubled the size of the congregation’s AIPAC delegation. He has continued building stronger connections between the American Jewish community and Israel while at Sinai Temple through the Israel Center and his involvement in the temple's AIPAC delegations. Rabbi Sherman was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May 2009, where he was awarded the United Synagogue Award for Congregational Service. He is also a graduate of Albert A. List College and Columbia University (with degrees in Music and Talmud), where he wrote his thesis, “Music in the Synagogue in the 21st Century.”

Dr. Joshua Holo (moderator) is the Dean of the HUC-JIR Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History. Prior to assuming the deanship in 2010, he served as Director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies, which serves as USC’s undergraduate Jewish Studies program. Dr. Holo's publications focus on Medieval Jews of the Mediterranean, particularly in the Christian realm. His book, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. He is the editor for the Brill Series on Jewish Studies, was a regular contributor of Torah commentary to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, and recently penned a an article on liberal Zionism titled “Peering into the Nationalist Mirror” in The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism. Ed. S. Davids and L. Englander. New York: CCAR Press, 2017. He co-founded HUC’s digital learning platform called the College Commons, and hosts a regular podcast called “Bully Pulpit.”

Business & Technology

Chedva Kleinhandler is the Founder and CEO of Emerj, an app that economically empowers employees and builds stronger companies by connecting employees with in-house mentors. Established in 2016, Kleinhandler's company now works with Fortune 500 companies in the technology and finance fields in the United States as well as the United Kingdom. In 2017, she was one of 50 women chosen by the monthly financial publication Lady Globes as a Leading Entrepreneur. That same year, she was also named Woman of the Year in Technology by the Israeli financial publication, Saloona. Born in New York to a Haredi family, Kleinhandler was raised and lives in Israel. Before founding Emerj, she worked as a freelance writer in the design space, creating her own blog and contributing to many leading publications, including Cosmopolitan Israel and Haaretz.

Guy Rosenthal is the Business Development Officer of Biopharmaceuticals at UCLA Technology Development Group. In his role, Rosenthal leads commercial and business development efforts to advance the commercialization of immuno-oncology, immunology, and computational biology programs. Previously, he served as the Manager of Academic Affairs and Networks at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Global R&D headquarters, where he led global external innovation with Teva's academic partners. At Teva, Rosenthal also created global partnerships as part of the company’s R&D strategy and lead search and evaluation efforts of academic technologies. Before joining Teva, Rosenthal worked for a biotechnology company and founded a business development and strategy initiative that provided seed-stage start-ups with business and strategy consulting services.

Yair Vardi is Co-Founder and Partner at Fusion LA, the first accelerator for Israeli start-ups in Los Angeles. Throughout his career, Vardi has been a leader in facilitating the growth of Israeli technology companies in the United States and specifically the Western United States. Prior to establishing Fusion LA, Vardi worked as the California representative for 8200 EISP, a non-profit organization that supports Israeli startups through its network of entrepreneurs, experts and investors, many of whom are alumni of Israel’s famed Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. While working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vardi also developed and supported US-Israel technology and innovation initiatives as an Advisor for Innovation at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Vardi utilizes his technology and entrepreneurial expertise in his volunteer work for several educational organizations, including TAMID Group, IAC Eitanim & Hillel at UCLA.

Maya Vardi Shoshani is the Director of Business Development and Head of the West Coast Division of the BIRD (Bi-national Industrial R&D) Foundation. The Foundation, established in 1977 by the US and Israeli governments, works to develop and fund industrial research and development partnerships between companies from both countries on a project specific basis. In her current work at BIRD, Vardi Shoshani is responsible for initiating business activities between US and Israeli companies, business development and relationship management with West Coast hi-tech companies, and strategic growth initiatives. Before joining the BIRD Foundation, Vardi Shoshani worked in the International Tenders, Contracting and Procurement department at the Israeli Railways Corporation, as a prosecutor at the District Attorney’s office in Tel Aviv, Israel, and as an attorney and litigator for several major law firms.

Carmit Yadin is a cybersecurity expert and the Co-Founder and CEO of ArcusTeam, an Internet of Things (IoT) security startup based in Israel. Yadin has worked in cyber security in the private sector for over fifteen years and has held a number of senior level positions at major high-tech companies in the United States and Israel, including NASDAQ-listed Silicom and Alvarion. Her roles have integrated her technical skills as well as her business development specialties, including the marketing of cyber and information communication technology security solutions. Prior to entering the private sector, Yadin served in an elite Israel Defense Forces cyber intelligence center and was certified as a Network and Security Specialist by the IDF before completing her BSc in Computer Science at Mercy College in New York.

Stuart Gabriel (moderator) is a Professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and an expert in real estate finance and economics. While his work has primarily centered on the United States, Prof. Gabriel has also researched and published on housing markets and the economic impacts of migration in Israel, regularly organizes and leads academic programs for Anderson School students in Israel, and has helped organize a number of conferences at and in conjunction with Israeli academic and government institutions. Professor Gabriel also serves on an ongoing basis as a Visiting Professor at the Coller School of Management, Tel Aviv University.


Gideon Raff is a film and television director, producer and writer best known as creator of the award-winning Israeli thriller drama series, Prisoners of War, and as executive producer of the American adaptation, Homeland. Both series have been critically acclaimed and recognized with prestigious awards in Israel and the United States, including several Emmy Awards and Golden Globes. Born in Jerusalem and currently based in Los Angeles, Raff has created a number of other American shows, including Dig and Tyrant, and is director of the soon-to-be released film The Red Sea Diving Resort, a drama for which he wrote the screenplay exploring the 1981 evacuation of Jewish Ethiopians to Israel from Sudan. He is currently directing an upcoming historical miniseries which he also wrote. The Spy, based on the life of Israel’s top Mossad spy in Syria, Eli Cohen, is being co-produced by Netflix and France’s Canal+.

Ninet Tayeb is a singer, songwriter and actress and considered one of the biggest entertainment figures in Israel. After rising to fame by winning the first season of Israeli Idol, she released her 2006 debut album, Barefoot, which was certified Platinum in less than 24 hours and yielded five #1 singles. Shortly after, she began her career in acting by starring in a successful TV series about her own life (Our Song). Her success in Israel in television, film and music brought her to the international stage. She was labeled “one of the hottest new artists to break into the United States” in 2015 and shortly after, moved to Los Angeles. She recently released her fifth album, Paper Parachute, in English and currently stars in the hit Israeli series When Heroes Fly.

Alesia Weston ran the International Feature Film Program of the Sundance Institute for a decade. In this role, she spearheaded the International labs (including Sundance in Jerusalem and Sundance in Tel Aviv) and headed the grants program for emerging filmmakers from the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 2012, she was appointed Executive Director of the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Jerusalem Cinematheque and Archives where she oversaw the international film festival and year-round programming. In 2014, she served as Special Advisor to the Beirut International Film Festival. More recently, Weston has served as a consultant for international and US based filmmakers and is developing an incubator for seasoned storytellers of color with Reza Aslan and Mahyad Tousi of BoomGen. She is a founding member of the Advisory Boards of the Torino Film Lab and Jerusalem International Film Lab.

Nicole Yorkin is an award-winning American television writer and producer currently working on a thriller series for Netflix with the creators of the hit Israeli show, Fauda, titled Hit and Run. Over her more than twenty years in Hollywood, Yorkin has produced and written for a number of successful television series, including the CBS series The Education of Max Bickford – which she created and also earned her a Writers Guild of America award – and Chicago Hope – which earned her a Emmy Award nomination for “Outstanding Drama Series.” She has also written and produced for the Netflix series The Killing and the ABC series FlashForward and co-created the Amazon Studios-produced period drama Z: The Beginning of Everything.

Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz (moderator) is a Professor in Tel Aviv University’s Film Department and one of the founders of the screenwriting program at the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television. Prof. Weiss-Berkowitz has extensive experience as a screenwriter, director and editor in Israel’s entertainment industry and has worked on a diverse array of productions, including television drama series, documentaries and more. She is most well known in Israel for her work as head writer of the drama series A Touch Away about the romantic relationship between a secular Jewish immigrant and an ultra-orthodox woman. Outside of her work in filmmaking, Prof. Weiss-Berkowitz has also served as Editor-in-Chief of the Keter Publishing House, one of the largest publishers in Israel and edited books by several prominent authors, including Amoz Oz, Shemi Zarhin, and Nava Semel. In 2018-19, Weiss-Berkowitz is the Israel Institute Visiting Artist at San Diego State University.