Nine DC-Area Innovators Head to Israel for International Summit

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Shai Korman is a 38-year-old husband and father of two from Arlington, Virginia. His latest passion project has been learning digital animation, but in his spare time he’s also an amateur drummer, songwriter, and podcaster.

 He’s also been nominated twice for the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy. He oversaw the expansion of the U.S. government’s communication with foreign audiences in Brussels, Dubai, Johannesburg, London, Manila, and Miami. Did I mention he is the director of public affairs and communications at United States Institute of Peace?

There are many amazing things about the Jewish community in this region. One of them is that anyone at your Shabbat table or holding up the carpool line at your kid’s school is more likely than not involved in changing the world for the better in some very specific, very cool way.

It should come as no surprise then that of the 150 Jewish leaders and innovators attending the ROI Summit in Israel next week, coming from 29 countries around the globe, nine are from the Greater Washington area: Yaara Barnoon, Jessica Brooks, Mark Hanis, Sheila Katz, Yael Shapira, Samantha Sisisky, Hillel Smith, Benjamin Weiner, and Korman. They are lawyers and artists, peacebuilders and youth engagement leaders — and of course you can’t bring together a group of exceptional Jews without some exceptional entrepreneurs.

The Summit is the flagship program of ROI Community, an international network of activists and change makers who are redefining Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens. ROI Community, in turn, is an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization that seeks to unleash the power in young people to create positive change in their communities.

To paraphrase a popular meme, one doesn’t just walk into the ROI Summit. The ROI Community turns to its members and network affiliates to recommend outstanding 2018 Summit candidates.

After meeting a few past and current participants at the pre-Summit events, Korman is blown away with the caliber and “menschlichkeit” of the ROI community and is excited to learn from everyone at the Summit.

Mark Hanis, a serial entrepreneur, has lived in DC since 2008 and is passionate about social justice. He has helped found several social impact organizations: the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, to engage global leaders to drive social change at scale; the Organ Alliance (now Organize) to address the unnecessary deaths due to a shortage of transplantable organs; and United to End Genocide to empower citizens and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide. He has been awarded several fellowships for social entrepreneurship, and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. His latest project, Inclusive America (co-founded with Jana Nelson), looks for ways to increase diversity and inclusion in government.

Some of these participants are native to this area — lawyer Jessica Brooks, for instance, grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, and went to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) from kindergarten through 12th grade. Today, Brooks is kicking butt and taking names as assistant U.S. attorney for DC's sex offense and sex trafficking unit.

Artist Hillel Smith, for example, splits his time between DC and Los Angeles these days, but his art is deeply informed by his West Coast roots. Smith discovered street art during bike rides to the comic store as a young teen in LA. Realizing that the city’s rich mural scene was deeply influenced by the heritage of its artists, but that the Jewish voice was not represented, he began to paint large Hebrew murals around the city. He is interested in bringing Judaica into the 21st century through projects that meld traditional content with modern design. His recently published “Parsha Posters” book, for instance, collects a year-long series of concert poster-inspired illustrations depicting each Torah portion.

Yael Shapira is a 10th-generation Jerusalemite currently based in DC. After years of working in international development, her Jewish values and her global interests have found the perfect intersection at OLAM. As a program director, she convenes and connects Jews working in international development and global service and raises the profile of tikkun olam (repairing the world) within the larger Jewish community.

"My passion to help vulnerable people around the world to live peaceful and meaningful lives is undoubtedly rooted in my connection to the Jewish people, who have been vulnerable for most of their history," she said. "Knowing about the suffering of our people — and my own family — and growing up in Israel surrounded by conflict has made me strive to make the world a better place so that others can suffer less."

“My identity as both a member of the Jewish people and the American people has led me to seek out opportunities for public and community service,” said Korman. His experiences with Jewish institutions — through his family’s Reconstructionist synagogue back in Montreal, as a member of Young Judaea, and through Jewish summer camps — were some of the most influential of his life.

“Aside from the learning Hebrew, Jewish history, tikun olam, and developing lifelong friendships, all of those experiences empowered me to learn about peer leadership and hadracha (guidance) at a very young age,” he said. “Concepts like active listening, constructive feedback, team building, strategic planning, and emotional intelligence were all concepts introduced to me and nurtured through those organizations. Even as a manager in the professional world, I still draw on those lessons everyday.”

Shapira is excited for the opportunity to engage with young and talented people from all walks of life and different countries at the Summit. "I am cognizant of the fact that I live in a bubble — a liberal, globally-minded, DC bubble," she said. "I hope to gain new perspectives, new skills, new friends, and maybe even some words in a few new languages."

By Rachel Kohn


 Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.