Our Board

US Leadership

Claude grew up in NYC, attended Ithaca College and the Sorbonne for his BA, and then attended UCLA, U of Houston and NYU for an unfinished MBA. Claude worked in France for several years after a short stint teaching high school French in Vestal NY. In 1980 he returned to NY and joined Lehman Brothers and subsequently Oppenheimer and Co. In the 1990s Claude founded a long distance telephone company which was sold in 1999.

In the non-profit arena Claude created several programs focused on strengthening the Jewish commitment of young Jews including the Outreach program “Traditions on Wheels” which was successfully duplicated in over 50 communities in North America. He has served as the Campaign Chair for the United Jewish Federation of Stamford, CT, worked on the UJF executive committee, and is currently on the board of Arts for Healing and the UConn Chapter of Hillel. Claude founded The Teen Tzedakah program in the greater Stamford area that had a one time 225 members. Claude has recently joined the Board of Inspirica the Homeless Shelter in Stamford CT. Claude’s biggest love is his work for Jordan River Village. Claude has been married to Melody for more than 30 years. They have 2 adult children Alex and Matthew and 2 grandchildren Jack and Brady.

Michelle (Mickey) Schwartz is a founding partner of Steve & Andy’s Organics, a food company using organic and gluten free ingredients. She is a Managing director of Golden Seeds, an early-stage investment firm focusing on women-led businesses, and has owned a contemporary Israeli art business for over 20 years. Mickey has a BSN in Nursing from SUNY Binghamton, and an MPP/MPH in Health Policy from UC Berkeley. Michelle travels between New York and the San Francisco Bay Area where she has been deeply involved in the Jewish non-profit community. She currently chairs the advisory board of the Goldman School at UC Berkeley and has a current appointment on the board of the SUNY Binghamton School of Pharmacology. She has been involved with AFJRV since 2014 and before that was a donor at the beginning stages of JRV. She is the mother of four children.

Talia Berger joined the board of directors of Jordan River Village in 2019 following a few years that her eldest son, Oliver, had attended as a camper due to a challenging background of intractable epilepsy. The incredible impact those 5 days a year had on Oliver for the remaining 360 – was substantial and Talia naturally wanted to share the magic of the Village with as many families as possible! Talia, and her husband Eli, live in Herzliya with their 3 teenagers – Oliver, Andy and Emma. Professionally, Talia’s 20-year career path includes working for various organizations, of all sizes as well as business owner and most recently as a headhunter for Israeli startup and high-tech companies who are seeking talent outside of Israel. Talia is also a licensed coach, meeting each coachee where they are at and empowering them to find life-work balance and live healthier, happier versions of themselves.

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Lanie Etkind is very excited to join the board of AFJRV, as it enables her to apply her professional experience in non-profit management together with her personal passion for Israel.

Lanie has spent her entire career in the non-profit sector, holding development positions at the New York Philharmonic, Beth Israel Medical Center, United Hospice of Rockland and The New Jewish Home.  In her current role as Executive Director of the Familial Dysautonomia Foundation, Lanie leads an organization that raises funds and awareness to support those impacted by this ultra-rare Jewish genetic neurological disorder.

Born and raised in Iowa, Lanie has lived in New York for more than 30 years.  She is married, has two grown children, and recently experienced the ultimate joy of becoming a grandmother.  In her spare time, Lanie enjoys reading, cooking, adventure travel and walking on the beach. 

Dr. Elena Itskovich, a PhDin stem cell biology, with advanced degrees from Weizmann Institute, and Cambridge and Stanford Universities.
 
She has recently founded Nest Catalyst, an entrepreneurship program that nurtures scientific innovation by Israeli scientists worldwide. The program runs an annual cohort of 5-10 teams, where founders get tools and training by world experts to support them to launch deep tech life science companies. To expand its impact, she is now fundraising for a pre-seed investment fund to invest in the highly innovative pre-seed science based companies fostered by the Nest Catalyst program. With her work she is on the mission to empower science founders to start revolutionizing companies.
 
Apart from this, Elena is on the advisory board or ScienceAbroad, a non-profit organization for Israeli scientists worldwide where she also manages their online community of over 6000 scientists. She is also the co-host of a podcast mAcademia, a podcast for scientists interested in science beyond academia.

Matthew Kayton has over 25 years’ experience in real estate settlement services, mortgage servicing and P&C insurance industries.  Throughout Matthew’s career he has served as operator, investor and consultant for a number of businesses in a variety of fields including title insurance, specialty lines of insurance, legal services, land surveying, mortgage services, telecom support, off-shore business services, home health care, HR services and BPM technology.

Businesses he played an integral part in forming, operating and owning include: First Financial Associates, Inc. (a foreclosure auction company in Massachusetts), First Financial Surveyors, Inc. (at its peak, the largest mortgage land surveyor in Florida and other Southeastern States), Consumer Select Insurance of America, LLC (a multi-state P&C insurance agency), and Field Asset Services, Inc. (a national property preservation, REO maintenance and repair company based in Austin, TX).  He also spent a significant part of his career at First Southwestern/First Financial Title Group (a national group of title insurance agencies) which was founded by his father in the 1970’s.

Most recently, Matthew spent the better part of two years developing a new insurance product for a large publicly traded insurance carrier and was also instrumental in the formation of a national title insurance company for that organization.  Additionally, he helped fund and support operations for a SaaS start-up focused on the BPM sector.  Some consulting highlights include the turnaround of a national telecom support services organization for a PE firm, a turnaround of multiple mortgage services entities for another PE firm and the creation of a service platform in India for a publicly traded company based in Luxembourg.

Matthew has sat on the Board of multiple public and private organizations.  He resides in Southern California with his wife and children.

Lance Levine, a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Law School, has been practicing commercial real estate law, with a focus on real estate finance, for more than twenty years, most recently at the international law firm O’Melveny & Myers.

Lance has been deeply involved with several Jewish and Israeli organizations, including Columbia-Barnard Hillel, UJA and AIPAC. As a Type 1 diabetic and through his charitable work for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Lance has become intimately associated with the special difficulties that children suffering from  medical issues and physical handicaps face on a daily basis. As a new AFJRV board member, he is looking forward to working on behalf of AFJRV in its ongoing efforts to alleviate those difficulties faced by Israeli youth.

Lance lives with his wife and over exuberant puppy, Sammy, in Westchester County, New York. An avid physical fitness enthusiast, Lance has completed more than twenty marathons and several ultramarathons.

Ariella Saperstein has worked in the Israel-related non-profit sphere for 15+ years, currently as Senior Program Officer for Maimonides Fund in NYC. She spent four years as Israel Program Officer at the Helmsley Charitable Trust, focusing on support for scientific and medical innovation, healthcare preparedness, and Israel’s standing in the world. Her previous work experience also includes overseeing governance and university relations at American Friends of The Hebrew University, and directing public programs and educational workshops at the Anti-Defamation League. Ariella has been awarded a Germany Close Up fellowship by the German government, an Israel Diplomatic Fellowship by the Israeli Consulate of New York, and was selected as a participant in the 2012 and 2013 New York Leaders program sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Haverford College and a Master’s Degree in Jewish Professional Leadership.

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Laura is a former Hole in the Wall Gang sibling camper. At 15, she began getting involved in the efforts to build Jordan River Village and share her experiences as a camper and a sibling by raising awareness.

Now, Laura lives in New York. She has an MBA with a concentration in finance from William & Mary and works at IBM in Corporate Social Responsibility.

“Camp is a place where YOU can be normal, even if everything around you is not. Everything is possible at camp: imagination and ingenuity make dreams come true.”

Dr. Weitzer retired in 2022 after ten years as the Executive Director of the Leo Baeck Institute. The Leo Baeck Institute is a research library and archive that documents the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry, primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also including documents dating back to the Middle Ages.  It was founded in 1955 as a repository for the books, papers, photos and documents that were salvaged from Central Europe after World War II. Dr. Weitzer also has over thirty years of experience in higher education at the University of Massachusetts, Wesleyan University, and Fairfield University.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, community involvement has been a priority in Dr. Weitzer’s life. While at the University of Massachusetts, he served on its Hillel Board and later was active in addressing equity and diversity issues in the West Hartford (CT) public schools.  He currently serves on the board of Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn and volunteers his time for causes in support of democracy in the U.S. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Rabbi Lisa D. Grant, professor at the Hebrew Union College, whose parents, Murray and Marilyn Grant founded the Jordan River Village.  Billy and Lisa have two adult children, Hannah and Nate.

Ayelet Zurer is one of Israel’s most acclaimed actresses. She was born in Tel Aviv, and first garnered the attention of Hollywood when she was cast by Steven Spielberg in her first English-speaking role, as Eric Bana’s character’s wife in the Oscar nominated film Munich. Ayelet has starred in a number of films including Vantage PointFugitive PiecesAdam ResurrectedAngels and DemonsDarling Companion, and Man of Steel. 

She won the Gold Nymph Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series at the 54th Festival of Television of Monte-Carlo for her role in the series Hostages and an Israeli Film and TV Academy Award for her lead performance in Nina’s Tragedies. She won the Haifa International Film Festival critic award and was awarded a star on Haifa’s “film boulevard,” for her international and local achievements. Ayelet also won the Israeli Television Academy Award for her lead performance in In Treatment a highly acclaimed television series that has been adapted by HBO for American television. In 2013 she was nominated opposite herself for an Israeli Television Academy Award for her role in Shtisel, but won best actress in a drama for her portrayal of a brilliant surgeon faced with the life and death dilemma in Hostages.

She married Gilad Londovski in 2003 and they had a son, Liad, in 2005. In 2004 when Ayelet was cast in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, she moved with her family to California where she resides today.

Advisory Board

Toby Deutsch
Yvette Lowenthal
Stanley Newman

Kayla Niles
Jeffrey Serkes
David Trachten

Israel Leadership

Prof. Ya’akov Ramon – Chairman, Board of Directors
Sara Lahat – Vice Chairman, Board of Directors
Elie Alony
Hava BarShay
David Ben Zeev
Talia Berger
Yoram Belizovski
Katia Citrin
Ruthy Danziger

Moti Dotan
Nira Dror
Dr. Yaakov Farbstein
Shmuel Friedman
Yigal Gali
Dr. Moshe Papa
Aviva Peterburg
Shelly Ramon
Sandra Shapira
Uri Slonim

Chaim Topol z”l, founder, past chairman and past president

Role of Paul Newman

Paul Newman left a legacy in Israel that is far greater than simply his portrayal of Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus, he was instrumental in the founding of Jordan River Village — helping guide the process, assisting with fundraising, lending his name, making connections, and so much more.

Paul is quote as saying:  “Let’s make the Village a peace camp” — he dreamed that it would help all sick children in the Middle East transcend their differences while focusing on the magic and fun of camp.

Paul Newman in Exodus

Role of Chaim Topol

Chaim Topol (z”l) first learned about the idea of Jordan River Village from his friend, the late actor Paul Newman, founder of SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global community of independently managed and financed camps serving children with serious illnesses and their families. Together with Murray and Marilyn Grant (z”l), Topol helped bring the dream of a place for sick children and their families to life.

Topol’s unwavering dedication to the Village served as an inspiration to all. He visited regularly, interacting with and encouraging campers every step of the way. Often, you could find Topol acting as camp counselor, assisting at the climbing wall, performing and dancing alongside the children on stage, and participating in all types of activities. Topol was always there for the children.

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