Meet Our Students - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Jacki Altman

Jacki hails from the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, Colorado and grew up hiking, biking, and eating excellent kugel with her family. In May 2013, shegraduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in anthropology and film studies. She then celebrated her newfound freedom by impulsively driving headlong into the heat, humidity, and colorful culture of Miami. Although far from my Colorado home, Miami has been quite the spicy adventure! Currently, Jacki is the Youth Engagement Director at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, Florida. She credits her fifteen summers working and attending Shwayder Camp in the Rocky Mountains, as well as frequent trips to Israel with family and friends, as catalysts for her deep passion for Israel, eventually spending six months in Jerusalem at Hebrew University in the spring of 2012. Jacki has been a counselor on Israel Study Tour, a five-week educational adventure in Poland and Israel for Colorado teens, for the past three summers. It was on this glorious trip, when she participated in 2008, that she fell in love with being Jewish. She loves sharing her passion and excitement for Judaism and Israel with others and is so excited to learn how to better connect to and educate future generations of enthused young Jews.


Meg Batavia

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Meg loves practicing calligraphy, admiring murals, writing poetry, knitting baby hats, dancing with her friends and cooking dinner for her family. A summer camp kid in heart and soul, she would say she has "the best job in the world," advising a local NFTY youth group, leading temple retreats, teaching Frisbee and an adapted Mitzvah Corps-esque 7th grade course, and then working at camp all summer long (break out the Chaos!). Meg is so grateful for all the beautiful opportunities that the universe has presented her with and cannot wait to keep growing, seeing the world through the eyes of the inspiring teens and children she works with everyday.


Melissa Frey

Growing up in Rockville Centre, NY, Melissa Frey has always enjoyed working with children. As a teenager and young adult, she spent many summers as a WSI Certified Swim Instructor and lifeguard at day camps on Long Island. She received a B.S. in Elementary Education from SUNY Oswego and a Master’s in Reading Education from Hofstra University. Melissa spent 8 years teaching Middle School Language Arts and Social Studies on Long Island and in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before leaving the New York City School system in 2000 when her daughter was born. She and her new family eventually moved to Westchester where, in 2004, she was begged to teach a 6th grade Judaica class at her local synagogue when the regular teacher fell ill.  Melissa was surprised at the special connection she felt to both her students and to Judaism that was different than teaching in a secular school.  “This was the start of something new…” Currently, Melissa is the Director of Youth Engagement at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown. While she still teaches religious school classes, Melissa is also enjoying the wonderful world of NFTY-NAR, running Temple Beth Abraham’s youth program, ZEETY, for High School student and expanding the Junior Youth Group program.  When she is not forcing her own children to attend her Youth Group events (which they LOVE), she enjoys spending time with family, running, biking, kayaking, skiing and being outdoors as much as possible!


Alison Greenland

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Ali was an active member of NFTY-OV throughout high school and a lifetime camper and staff member at URJ GUCI. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor's degree in Studio Art. Her love for creating new things and her passion for working with kids led her to work in the Children's Museums world for a few years. After college, Ali’s youth programming experience brought her to Berkeley, California where she participated in the Urban Adamah farming fellowship, learning from the earth and teaching elementary school gardening. From there, she combined her love of nature and youth work to serve as Kibbutz Director at URJ Camp Newman. She is currently the youth advisor at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and loves working with the Bay Area teen community. She is looking forward to learning and growing with this cohort and hope to gain valuable experience through this program!


Aaron Gurvis

Aaron Gurvis works as a Youth Engagement Professional at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA, facilitating formal and informal programming for grades 6-12. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he studied Linguistics and Information Technology. Aaron has been involved in the reform movement his whole life. He has spent many years as a camper and staff member at Eisner Camp in the Berkshires, was an active member of his local synagogue and youth group as well as in NFTY Northeast, and was a participant and staff member for both NFTY in Israel and Kesher Birthright. Aaron's passion for Jewish youth work is a product of these many incredible experiences and he is excited to begin his formal Jewish education with this certificate so that he can continue to share his love for Judaism and help to develop the next generation of leaders within our movement!


Ethan Lane-Miller

Ethan Lane-Miller is the Director of Youth Engagement at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ. Born and raised in Plano, TX, Ethan began working with Jewish youth as a teacher's aide at his home congregation of Adat Chaverim. Ethan spent his summers during college at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas as a summer camp counselor and theatre assistant at Camp Chai. After graduating with a degree in Sociology from Southwestern University, he returned home to the Dallas Jewish community and worked in a part-time capacity for many organizations. Prior to moving to Cherry Hill and Temple Emanuel, Ethan worked at the JCC in Dallas as a substitute teacher and senior staff for Camp Chai, as a substitute teacher for Akiba Academy of Dallas, as the program associate for BBYO's Dallas-area middle school program, and at Adat Chaverim as a religious school teacher and the advisor for CFTY (Adat Chaverim's senior youth group.) When not working with Jewish youth, Ethan enjoys the finer things in life: building things out of Legos, watching baseball, and playing video games with friends. Ethan has loved his first year at Temple Emanuel and is looking forward to furthering his professional development with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.


Tara Levine

Tara Levine is a recent graduate with a degree in Strategic Communications in the Honors Program at Temple University in Philadelphia. Tara grew up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and was extremely active in NFTY- PAR and is a proud alum of the URJ Kutz Camp. She serves as the Director of Youth Engagement at the amazing Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, New York. In her free time, she loves trying new sushi restaurants, playing guitar and singing, traveling, cooking, and playing with her puppy Oreo. She is looking forward to being part of a creative and supportive community that learns how to best guide Jewish teens along their life journeys!


Seth Marion

Seth Marion grew up on Long Island and was active in his Youth Group at Temple Emanu-el of Lynbrook and his NFTY region. Seth received his B.A. in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Design and Technology and earned his MFA in Technical Production from Boston University. Having recently decided to enter the Jewish professional world, Seth now works at Larchmont Temple as the Youth Programs Coordinator. In this role, he advises the youth groups, teaches in the religious school and oversees camping and retreat initiatives. Seth worked at URJ Eisner Camp from 2003-2012, where he played a vital role in shaping the waterfront, logistics systems and running camp wide events. Seth currently spends his summers at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy as the Director of Logistics and Engineering, bringing together Judaism and science in new and creative ways. Seth lives in Westchester with his wife Sarah, who is a fifth year rabbinic student, and their cat, who has yet to enroll at HUC-JIR. In his free time, Seth enjoys biking, photography and playing guitar.


Alexandra (Alex) Null

Alex Null is one of the Assistant Directors of Year Round Programs at the URJ Greene Family Camp and lives in Dallas, Texas during the non-summer months. Alex is part of the new Greene Family Camp model, and assists the youth engagement team by planning unique and creative programs for Jewish teens across north Texas and Oklahoma. Alex was a longtime camper and staff member at Greene, was involved in NFTY’s Texas Oklahoma region during high school, and played an active role at KU Hillel during college. When Alex is not at camp, she enjoys spending free time with family and friends, traveling to new places and cheering on the Kansas Jayhawks during basketball season.


Jonah Potasznik

Jonah Potasznik grew up in Rockville, Maryland and currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland. Jonah graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in spring of 2014 and will be beginning his third year of work with BBYO, as a Regional Director for DC Council, in the fall. His favorite part of being a Jewish educator is tricking teens into realizing they are beautiful people. Jonah is very excited to start HUC's Certificate program in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults. A major goal of his for the coming year is to one day be able to write out the full name of this program without having to google it first.


Josh Rosenthal

Josh Rosenthal has recently completed his first year as the Director of Youth Engagement at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, New York. He graduated from Tulane University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jewish Studies with a minor in English, and, despite growing up in New York and having lived there for the past two years, he is still adjusting to the weather. Josh has grown up at URJ Crane Lake Camp, having gone since he was 10. His time at camp helped him to find a love for providing both growth and leadership opportunities for teens and young adults. He is looking forward to building relationships with his fellow Youth Professionals and gaining the tools to do the best possible work with his teens as a part of this Certificate program.


Rabbi PJ Schwartz, RJE

Rabbi PJ Schwartz is Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel in Westport, CT. He was ordained in 2013 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati, OH. PJ also received a Master’s degree in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Jewish Studies in 2011 as part of a joint program between HUC-JIR and Xavier University. PJ is thrilled to be part of the Certificate in Jewish Education with a Specialization in Adolescents and Emerging Adults program and looks forward to spending the year learning with his cohort and integrating what he learns from the program into his rabbinate. PJ his married to Michelle, a special education teacher, whom he met during his senior year of college at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. They are parents to a nine-year old cocker spaniel, Teddy.


Forrest Yesnes

Forrest Yesnes is the Youth Director at Shir Tikvah Congregation of Minneapolis. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Youth Studies. Forrest grew up in NFTY and at the URJ's Kutz Camp, where for years he developed both his own Reform Jewish identity and a passion to help others do the same. At Shir Tikvah, Forrest oversees the formal youth education through the Hebrew and Religious Schools and informal youth programming through the youth group. When not at work, he enjoys reading, being with family and friends, and spending time outdoors as much as possible. He feels honored and excited to continue his education with Cohort 5 of the Certificate program!



Kara Liu

is the eighth- and ninth-grade Torah center teacher and youth advisor for ANDI, the youth group at Temple Israel in Long Beach, CA. Kara also works with NFTY SOCAL, helping to supervise logistics, programming, and staff happiness. She is an artist, wife, and mother who enjoys drawing, ceramics, cooking, and working in her organic garden.