A changing of the guard took place this month at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington.
Jennifer Raskas, director of the JCRC Israel Action Center (IAC), announced on Facebook on Aug. 22 that she was joining the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (SHI NA) as the latter’s Washington, D.C. manager. IAC Associate Director Alexis Schwartz took over for Raskas after her departure at the end of last week.
In her new position, Raskas “oversees all program development, management and administration for the institute in the greater Washington, DC area,” she said. She is already excited to work with The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington on a partnership with SHI NA that will begin in October with a talk by SHI NA President Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer.
“The partnership will convene Jewish leaders from across the Washington region, as well as scholars from Israel and North America, to engage in conversation on topics ranging from identity in an age of boundarylessness, to the significance of Israel for Jewish life, to living with partisanship and American Jewish life,” she said.
“While we are sorry to see Jennifer leave, we are thrilled that she will continue to work with the JCRC, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and leaders throughout our community,” the JCRC said in a statement announcing Raskas’ departure and Schwartz’s promotion.
The IAC serves the Greater Washington community in many ways. In addition to empowering teens and adults with written Israel advocacy materials, grassroots advocacy training and mobilization programs, the organization facilitates access to local and foreign experts on military, political, and social issues facing Israel, a great resource for media, public officials, and business and civic leaders. The IAC also partners with Israeli organizations on programs to improve Diaspora-Israeli community relations.
Raskas introduced multiple new initiatives in each of these areas during her two-and-half years as director. She also facilitated opportunities for dialogue about Israel between groups of different faiths and political backgrounds.
Most recently, Raskas was the JCRC’s point person in a successful collaboration with other organizations to secure non-stop commercial flights to Israel from the Greater Washington area.
One of the initiatives Raskas is particularly proud of, she said, was a team effort involving successor Schwartz and Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, manager of teen engagement at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Together, they trained 400 college-bound high school students about the centrality of Israel in Jewish history, ways to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, and taught them leadership, narrative, and conflict-resolution skills that will help them engage with Israel on college campus.
Raskas’ replacement “is a strategic thinker, an innovative programmer, and brings exceptional strategic communication skills to the position” of IAC director, said the JCRC statement. “Last year, she participated in the exclusive Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Seminar for Young Jewish Leaders program, has lectured on Israel Advocacy at national conferences and throughout our community, and has been an integral part of our teen Israel engagement programs since their inception.”
“Alexis will bring her passion, expertise, and leadership to continue to move the Israel Action Center forward and to ever-growing heights,” the statement said.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.