Founder and President
Peter Geffen is also Founder of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School in NYC, former Director of the Israel Experience Program for the CRB Foundation and one of the most respected Israel education specialists in the world. He has been a social activist since serving as a civil rights worker for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965-66 and has been deeply involved in Arab-Jewish co-existence work since the early 1960's. Peter served as Executive Director of The Center for Jewish History from 2003-05. He has designed and conducted international travel programs for teenagers and adults since 1969 including the Kivunim summer teachers' programs that have served over 1500 participants since 1999. Peter was the recipient of the Covenant Award in 2012, the highest recognition given to a Jewish educator.
Elie graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. Following graduation, Elie worked for the New Israel Fund in San Francisco as the Development Associate for the West Coast. Elie also served as the Assistant Director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee. There, she managed the Jewish Religious Equality Coalition, advocating for religious freedom as a means of strengthening Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. Most recently, Elie worked as the Director of Operations and then as Interim Executive Director at The Kitchen, a religious start-up based in San Francisco. In 2017, Elie received the New Israel Fund’s New Generations Guardian of Democracy award. She was a participant on Kivunim in 2008-2009. Elie lives in Brooklyn with her husband David.
KIVUNIM's Gap-year Program Director is Jay Leberman who served as Head of School of the Perelman Jewish Day School in Philadelphia from 1997 until 2013. Prior to that he was Head of School of the Sager Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook, Illinois from 1985-1997. In Chicago and Philadelphia he received national recognition for his respect for diversity and his openness to new ideas and perspectives within the educational realm. Jay began his academic training at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received his Masters from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford.
LEA LANDOWNE LEITER
Lea is KIVUNIM's Associate Director for Administration and Logistics and has been with us since we opened in 2006. Originally from New York City, Lea made aliyah to Israel in 2005. She holds a BA from Yeshiva University and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education While in New York, she taught at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School. She served as co-Director of KIVUNIM from 2008-10. She is married to Rabbi Hayim Leiter and the mother of Maytal, Rafi and Netta.
Formerly the US Representative for Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, Gabi also worked as a Research Fellow at the Shalem Center and the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. He has written extensively on geopolitical developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, publishing in The Jerusalem Post, The National Interest, The American Interest, Turkish Policy Quarterly, and The New Republic. Gabi served as a KIVUNIM madrich in 2008-2009, and has since operated in multiple administrative and educational roles for the organization. A veteran of the IDF’s Armored Corps, Gabi also holds a BA in history from The Ohio State University, an MA in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is currently completing his PhD in Government & International Affairs at Virginia Tech University. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two daughters.
One of KIVUNIM’s innovations is the inclusion of Arabic Language instruction in addition to Hebrew. Arabic Instructor, Amal Abusif is an award-winning teacher in the Haifa School System and co-existence activist. She is (to the best of our knowledge) the first Arab, Muslim, Woman ever to hold a senior staff position in a program of Jewish education. She holds a BA and MA in education from Haifa University and is currently a Phd student at Ben Gurion University. Amal also coordinates our coexistence education program.
DR. DAVID MENDELSOHN
Dr. David Mendelsohn teaches the unit on Greece prior to our first trip of each year. His areas of expertise include Islamic Studies, History and Culture of Arabs with Israeli Citizenship, Bedouin Law and the relationship between language and culture in Arabic and Hebrew. His current research examines the influence of Hebrew on the dialects of Arabic spoken in Israel. Mendelsohn also lectures on the history and relationships between Middle East countries and militant organizations. David holds advanced degrees in diverse fields: a Ph.D. Classics / Linguistics, an M.A. in Archaeology / Linguistics and an Honours B.A. in Classical Studies. David is the recipient of one of Canada’s highest academic honors, The $200,000 Trudeau Prize.
Chief Financial Officer
Yaakov, a native of New York City and University of Michigan Honors graduate, has worked professionally in Israel for over 20 years in various senior positions of financial management and accountancy involving both Israeli and US entities and the interface between them. Prior to making aliyah to Israel, he earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Minnesota Carlton School of Management in Minneapolis where he also worked in the area of community-based economic development including as managing director of a revolving loan fund. In 2001 he became a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). Yaakov has been with Kivunim since the first year of it's student program in 2006-2007.
DR. ROSS BRANN
Dr. Ross Brann flies in each year for an intensive week of inspired teaching in preparation for our travels to Spain. He is Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies at Cornell University. Ross studied at the University of California, Berkeley, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, New York University, and the American University in Cairo. He has taught at Cornell since 1986 and served fourteen years as Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, completing his fourth term in 2006. Professor Brann is the author of The Compunctious Poet: Cultural Ambiguity and Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), recipient of the 1992 National Jewish Book Award in Sefardic Studies, and author of Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Muslims and Jews in Islamic Spain (Princeton University Press, 2002). Brann is also the editor of four volumes and author of essays on the intersection of medieval Jewish and Islamic cultures. He is currently working on Andalusi Moorings: Al-Andalus and Sefarad as Tropes of Muslim and Jewish Culture for the University of Pennsylvania Press.
DR. ALON LIEL
Dr. Alon Liel prepares our students for our vital experience in Turkey. He holds B.A., M.A. and PhD degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Dependence of Imported Energy and its Impact on Turkey's Foreign Policy” in 1986. Alon served the Israeli Foreign Ministry in various positions: as head of the Israeli mission in Turkey (1981-1983), the Foreign Ministry spokesman and the member of the Israeli negotiating team at the Taba talks with Egypt (1985–1987), Ambassador to South Africa in (1992-1994), Director General of the Ministry of Economy and Planning (1994-1996), Foreign Policy Advisor to Ehud Barak (1997-1999), Director General of the Foreign Ministry (2000-2001). He is the author of several books including Turkey in the Middle East – Oil, Islam and Politics (1993), Black Justice – The South African Upheaval (1999), Turkey – The Military, Islam and Politics (1999), Turkey in the Middle East (2001), Demo Islam, Turkey’s New Regime (2003). He has taught courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University on Turkey and the Middle East politics.
Tobi Kahn is KIVUNIM’s artist-in-residence. Tobi, a distinguished American artist, is our “Director of Seeing,” making it possible for our students to explore and appreciate a visual way of knowing: through museums, architecture, street scenes, encounters with people around the globe, and, of course, nature. By means of his commitment to the visual arts, Tobi creates a deeper and more expansive experience for participants in KIVUNIM, both students and staff/faculty.
On May 17, 2007, Tobi became only the second artist (after Jacques Lipschitz, in 1965), to be awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Hebrew Letters, honoris causa) by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Tobi is the curator (with student assistants) of the annual KIVUNIM exhibition. Our exhibitions have been featured at Beit Hatefusoth, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv; at the JCC in Manhattan in New York City and most recently at the ICC of Jerusalem. These collections of the photographs and writings of KIVUNIM students are unique expressions of the sense of world consciousness developed by our students during their journeys throughout the year. In January, 2010 we published a 90-page catalogue. KIVUNIM is very privileged to be able to illuminate our students’ learning with Tobi’s insight, talent and wisdom.