Making an Impact: HUC-JIR's Class of 2023

Our newest graduates are already doing great things in the world! Here we invite you to meet four remarkable representatives of the Class of 2023.

HUC-JIR alumni are leading the world of progressive Judaism, whether as rabbis, educators, or nonprofit professionals. This year HUC-JIR proudly awarded 122 degrees across its three U.S. graduation ceremonies, ushering in a new wave of professional leadership. We spoke with four new alumni from our different schools to hear a little bit about where they’re coming from, where they’re headed, and how their education at HUC-JIR helped them get there. We are proud of them, and all our alumni, who are serving communities around the world.




Sonya Basseri

Meet Sonya Basseri, School of Education

Hometown: Seattle, WA
Undergraduate Institution: University of Washington
Current Role: Teacher, Seattle Hebrew Academy in Seattle, WA

What led you to HUC-JIR? I initially chose DeLet at HUC-JIR because I wanted a teacher preparation program that was specifically designed for Jewish day school. Seventeen years later, I found my way back to complete the DeLet MAT program. I was feeling the need to grow professionally and looking for the right place to do it. When I saw an email in my inbox telling me about this new program called the DeLet MAT, I knew it was for me. In many ways it felt like coming home, from the shared language to the cohort style learning to the expert faculty.

How did your education at HUC-JIR help you with your job? I started at my current school many years ago filling in a part-time kindergarten Judaic studies position. When a teaching position opened to teach full-day kindergarten, both general and Judaic, I jumped at the opportunity. So much of my DeLet year at HUC-JIR was focused on integration and I was able to put into practice what I learned to maximize learning time and impact. After the birth of my oldest child, I moved to new roles at my school. At the time my school was part of a partnership with the Mandel Center at Brandeis University to support new teachers through a mentoring program. The experience I had from DeLet positioned me to be a key player in our partnership, and eventually to become the coordinator of the program as well as a mentor to new teachers. This past year, I completed the DeLet MAT with a teacher action project researching how student curiosity can drive Parasha discussions in a kindergarten classroom. I saw the powerful impact student-led learning has on imprinting deep knowledge into students. I will be using the research and learning from my project to lead an in-house professional development session on how to facilitate student-led learning in the classroom. Next year, I will also take on a role coaching lower school teachers using the skills I gained in MAT classes with Shelley Lawrence.

What was unique or a highlight about your experience at HUC-JIR? I loved the chance to connect with professors, teachers, and colleagues who deeply care about education, about Judaism, and who want to engage in the unique challenges facing current Jewish day schools.

Do you have a message for new students? I am leaving the MAT program with lifelong mentors. Embrace the opportunity to learn from your teachers in every area you can. The words of Pirke Avot 1:6 come to mind: “Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.”


Leah Chakoff

Meet Leah Chakoff, Zelikow School of Nonprofit Management

Hometown: Miami, Florida
Undergraduate Institution: University of Central Florida
Current Role: Director of Strategic Grants for Hillel International

What led you to HUC-JIR? Working for the Hillel movement, I heard about HUC-JIR several times. In 2017, a recruiter came to the campus Hillel I was working with. I learned more about the program while I met with him, and also set up phone call with a staff member at the Zschool to understand the difference between the MAJNM and MSOLI programs. I was not quite ready then, but during the pandemic, I had a realization that it was time for me to grow myself as a leader by attending grad school. The MSOLI program fit perfectly with the type of information I wanted to learn, and fit with my lifestyle of remaining in work while going back to school.

How did your HUC-JIR education help you in your current position? I was working for Hillel International at the start of my time at HUC-JIR as the Assistant Director of Grants. There was a staff transition in December 2021, and I saw an opportunity for growth. My graduate school mentor and HUC-JIR staff were pivotal thought partners as I advocated for myself. Specifically, Mandi Richardson went out of her way to make herself available when I needed some quick advice for securing a higher-level role. I will always be grateful for her support and leadership.

What was unique or a highlight about your experience at HUC-JIR? There are so many things, but some highlights include the fact that all of the members of my cohort were full-time working professionals. During our field work, my classmates and I met with the Associate Director of our program, where we were able to both share successes and troubleshoot different situations. We had honest, vulnerable conversations where we wholeheartedly supported one another. We formed a really close bond as a group – I know that this group of incredible leaders will be in my life far beyond my time at HUC-JIR. I also loved that all of my professors were practitioners! That means that my finance class was taught by a CFO, my nonprofit leadership class was taught by an incredible CEO of a major Jewish institution, my board of directors class was taught by a board leadership expert, the list goes on and on. I never imagined receiving a graduate-level education where I would learn from the best in the Jewish nonprofit industry, but it was a unique opportunity that made school feel so accessible. I also know that if I need anything, these professors will be available as thought partners. Just yesterday, I met with one of my professors who is a Chief Talent Officer at a legacy institution. I had some questions related to her line of work and she provided incredibly helpful insight. I am grateful that I continue to feel invested in past my time in the classroom. On a more personal level, I feel like I not only learned technical skills in school, but also had the opportunity to dive further into who I am and my personal values. Overall, I feel more confident in who I am as a person and leader.

Do you have a message for new students? Connect with as many people as possible during your time in school! Jewish professionals are excited to talk to grad school students. I had the opportunity to talk to many people in high-level roles. It’s a great time to have informational interviews to learn more about the Jewish nonprofit world and consider potential career paths. You never know how forming those connections may be helpful down the line!


Anna Meyers

Meet Anna Meyers, Rabbinical School

Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island
Undergraduate Institution: Northeastern University
Current Role: Director of Young Family Engagement and Director of Home Base, Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH
What led you to HUC-JIR? When I was a teenager applying to college and thinking through potential career paths, I remember my rabbi, Sarah Mack, at Temple Beth-El in Providence saying to me, “What about being a rabbi?” Though I could hardly see myself as a rabbi at 17 years old, the next words out of her mouth were, “You have to check out HUC.” Ever since then, HUC-JIR was on my radar, and after pursuing a degree in Jewish Studies in college and finding my love for Jewish professional life at Hillel, I indeed decided to apply to HUC-JIR.

How did your HUC-JIR education help you get this position? My fellowship and internship experiences in Cincinnati helped me to network with community leaders, develop confidence as a rabbi and educator, and embrace new experiences and opportunities. In a smaller Jewish community like Cincinnati, I was able to learn from clergy and educators who served as synagogue leaders, instructors at HUC-JIR, and mentors during my fieldwork. When my family decided to stay in Cincinnati after ordination, I already had strong relationships with the Reform rabbis in the community and felt confident about the potential to create a job for myself. With the support of Rabbi Lewis Kamrass at Wise Temple, we secured grant funding to launch Home Base, a new educational after-school program, this fall. My year of study at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education sparked my passion for and commitment to exploring models of supplemental Jewish education that are distinct from a synagogue religious school. With the mentorship of my dear rabbi and friend, Rabbi Dr. Jan Katzew, I wrote my rabbinic capstone on the after-school model of Jewish education, where programs offer both childcare and education five days a week to students in select cities across the country. I think that this model has great potential to become a trend across the United States in Jewish education, and I am excited to build an after-school program that meets the childcare needs of families and enriches their children’s lives through positive Jewish experiences.

What was unique or a highlight about your experience at HUC-JIR? I found a personal and professional community of my own both within the institution and in the greater Jewish community through my time at the college. The HUC-JIR community in Cincinnati helped me feel safe to take risks that enabled me to grow as a person and as a rabbi. I felt incredibly supported by my teachers and rabbis throughout my five years on the historic Cincinnati campus.

Do you have a message for new students? Make the most of your time studying at HUC-JIR. Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and create your own. Learn as much as you can from the academic and professional experts in the field and build relationships with them. Graduate studies are challenging; hang in there and remember what drove you to pursue this path. Find mentors that will nurture and guide you along the way and lean on friends and family for support.


Ze’evi Tovlev

Meet Ze’evi Tovlev, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

Hometown: Newton, Massachusetts
Undergraduate Institution: Bennington College
Current Role: Cantor, Temple Shalom of Chevy Chase, Maryland

What led you to HUC-JIR? I grew up in the Reform movement at Temple Shalom of Newton, Massachusetts and URJ Eisner Camp. I fell in love with tefilah as a camper and junior choir member. I then became a song leader, studied voice in college, and worked as a Jewish educator following graduation. My two biggest passions throughout life have been music and Jewish community and pursuing the cantorate was the best way for me to follow both passions at once.

How did your HUC-JIR education help you get your current position? I took a rather unorthodox route at HUC-JIR, studying on both the NY campus and the LA campus, and earning not only cantorial ordination but also a Masters of Jewish Education from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education. I think these varied experiences allowed me to grow as a person, an educator, and a cantor, giving me the tools to approach the multi-faceted work of a cantor from different viewpoints.

What was unique or a highlight about your experience at HUC-JIR? I came out as transgender and nonbinary while a student at HUC-JIR. There had never been a nonbinary cantorial student stateside before me and I found the experience of being a pioneer both exciting and challenging. Throughout my time at HUC-JIR I’ve worked to create a culture, not just of acceptance, but of understanding and support for trans students. At first, I was the only out trans student in NY. Now, there is a sizable and growing group of trans students across campuses. A few weeks ago, my two nonbinary classmates and I became the first three out trans cantors in known history. My hope is that there will be many more to come.

Do you have a message for new students? There is no one way to be a cantor, rabbi, educator, or Jewish leader. Your unique perspective and your most authentic self are the biggest gifts you can bring to this work.