Yael Steiner serves as the Director of Programs, developing and implementing Civic Spirit programs to reach schools across the country. Previously, she worked at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools and RAVSAK, running leadership development, community engagement, and educational programs for Jewish day school leaders, teachers, and students. She has also taught at SAR Academy and Beit Rabban Day School. Yael earned a BA and social studies teaching certification from the University of Michigan and a dual MA in Education and Jewish Studies from NYU, where she studied as a Jim Joseph and Wexner-Davidson graduate fellow. She lives in New Jersey with her family.
Rabbi Charles E. Savenor, the Executive Director of Civic Spirit, has a passion for civic education and its goals of educating, inspiring, and empowering faculty and students towards civic belonging, knowledge, and responsibility.
He recently finished eight years as the Director of Congregational Education at Park Avenue Synagogue (PAS) in New York, where he oversaw lifelong learning, inclusion, Israel engagement, and travel education. Rabbi Savenor came to PAS from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, where he served as the Director of Leadership and Organizational Development. Previous positions included the Associate Dean and Director of Admissions at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Associate Rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.
Rabbi Savenor graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A., summa cum laude, in History as well as Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in 1991. He was ordained at JTS in 1996 with a concentration in Education. In 2008 he earned a Masters of Education at Columbia University, Teachers College. He participated in the 2019-2020 cohort of the LEAP Fellowship created by CLAL and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
His articles on education, parenting, leadership and Judaism in the 21st century have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Week, The New York Observer, Kveller, Hadassah Magazine, and The Boston Jewish Advocate. Rabbi Savenor blogs for The Times of Israel. He is currently writing a book called What My Father Couldn’t Tell Me.
He currently sits on the international boards of Leket Israel (the National Food Bank of Israel) and Gesher, JNF’s Adult Education Committee for the World Zionist Village, as well as the Brandeis University’s Alumni Admissions Council. In June 2021, Rabbi Savenor was the first recipient of “The Maimonides Award for Excellence in Jewish Education” from the Community Scholars Program (CSP).
Rabbi Savenor and his wife, Julie Walpert, are the parents of two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Fans of the Boston Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots, they make their home in New York City.
Amendment I: Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press
Dr. Tweel has devoted her professional life to educating students, faith leaders, and politicians on the history and value of American religious and secular civil society. She began her career at the Interfaith Center of NY building civic coalitions and later worked as the Associate Director of the Freedom and Citizenship Program at Columbia University, where she taught courses in the Great Books, the history and ethics of philanthropy, aging, and civics. There is little she loves more than spending time with students and a text. She continues to teach and lecture widely as a seminar instructor at Columbia University and as a research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Dr. Tweel developed Civic Spirit inside Hillel International’s Office of Innovation where she also serves as the Director of Strategic Development.
Dr. Tweel received a master’s degree in theological studies from the Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in history from Columbia University. In 2009, she received the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Her work has been published in numerous academic and popular journals, magazines, and newspapers, including the Washington Post, The Forward, The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Jewish Week, Inside Higher Ed, and The Huffington Post.
Amendments V and XIV: Due Process
Virginia Bayer is a past president of and currently serves as the Chair of the Board of The Jewish Center, on New York’s Upper West Side. Virginia worked in commercial banking and has been a lay leader in various organizations in the Jewish and general community, often with start up organizations.
She has been actively involved in The Abraham Joshua Heschel School since its founding in 1983 and has served in a myriad of capacities, including as its president. In 2004, she was one of the founders of SAFE – Securing America’s Future Energy in Washington DC that works to reduce America’s dependence on oil.
Virginia recently co-authored Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas and is reviving the Mergentime designs for the consumer market.
Audi Hecht is a passionate educator in the fields of Civics, American History, and Political Science. Previously she directed a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program at the Frisch School for the Tikvah Fund, served as Dean of Academics at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, NJ, as Chairperson of the History department at Yeshiva University High School for Girls and as Adjunct instructor at the College of New Rochelle. She is enthusiastic about academic innovation, curriculum design, and in directing civics and experiential education initiatives. She holds a BA and MA in Political Science from Brooklyn College and is a doctoral candidate at the Azrieli School of Education, researching the impact of school leadership on institutional health and culture.
Carla Arichavala manages Civic Spirit’s fundraising and communications activities while working alongside the organization’s generous community of supporters and donors to amplify the impact of its work on educators and students. As the daughter of Hispanic immigrants, Carla is passionate about the power of civic engagement in preserving inclusive narratives and creating stronger and more vibrant communities. Previously, she served as the Development Associate at Citizens Committee for New York City where she collaborated and assisted in executing its many fundraising initiatives that included donor cultivation events, corporate volunteer days, and special events in the form of accessible virtual programming. Carla also completed an AmeriCorps term with the New York Restoration Project where she coordinated and led outdoor social, volunteer, and cultural programs in many of its community gardens across the five boroughs. She holds a BA in Psychology from Binghamton University and currently lives in Queens, NY.
Hillary Gardenswartz is passionate about making civics education relevant and meaningful in the lives of teens. Having worked in a variety of educational settings, Hillary brings her experience from the field to work with both students and educators to create and implement new programs.
Before joining Civic Spirit, Hillary was a Senior Project Manager at The Jewish Education Project, where she worked with top professionals, helping to reshape the teen landscape. Hillary was privileged to support and collaborate with educators who worked in all types of settings, including day schools, camps, congregations, and youth groups. Hillary spent twelve years teaching high school Rabbinics and Judaic Studies, and eight years as the Rabbinics department chair at Schechter Westchester (now The Leffell School). She loved helping students become critical readers of text and make text-to-world and text-to-self connections.
Hillary holds a BA from Brandeis University in Politics and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. She has Masters Degrees in both Jewish Education and in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Hillary is a Trustee on the Board of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She resides in NYC and though she does not particularly like running, she loves to run the NYC marathon with Fred’s Team (charity team for Memorial Sloan Kettering), which she has completed nine times.
Saied has a decade of experience in front and backend web development. In those years he has pursued his passion for education by speaking at tech and higher education conferences. He also has led and created courses at DCTV in NYC, which provides media arts curriculum to underserved populations. From 2016 through 2019, Saied served as COO/CFO of a mid-sized NYC web development firm, where he built and oversaw a team of developers, designers, and content specialists. He now owns and operates the digital agency WPHelp.co.
Amendment I: Freedom of Speech and Press
Judith Ballan teaches World History and AP European History at SAR High School in Riverdale (Bronx), NY, where her students learn to read a source closely and carefully. She sings in two choirs, and loves the bookends of the choral experience: reading through music they haven't seen before, and polishing it once it is learned. When she is not teaching or singing , she can be found at any sidewalk café, just about anywhere in Manhattan. Her greatest sense of connection comes from talking to alumni of her school and sensing the degree to which she helped shape the people they have become.
Donna Bello teaches in the Social Sciences department at St. Peter’s Boys High School on Staten Island, New York.
Rabbi Akiva Block brings energy, enthusiasm, and excitement to his classroom at SAR High School in Riverdale (Bronx), NY, where he teaches Judaic Studies, including Bible, Talmud, Jewish Law, and Jewish Philosophy. He relishes the meaningful connection within the school community at the magical moments everyone is studying together. When not teaching, he is most invigorated by spending time with family, and by his work as a rabbi of a synagogue in Englewood, NJ. Reading, schmoozing, politics, and all sports (especially the Mets) fill in his free time.
Sr. Maria Cassano is Principal at St. Jean Baptiste High School in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She thinks of civic education as an opportunity for all, adults and students alike, to reflect on the foundations of the nation, the hopes and dreams of the founders, and to help create a reality for all Americans that is inclusive and reflective of those dreams as a matter of peace and justice. Outside the classroom, she enjoys reading, going to museums, attending instrumental and choral concerts and ballet performances. Interactions with the faculty and students, and witnessing the development of students from young girls to young women, are what drives her.
Tani Cohen-Fraade teaches a variety of subjects at Luria Academy of Brooklyn to students across elementary and middle school levels. Especially important to him is the Montessori-based, child-centered approach of the school, which allows him to help students find their own interests in the work that they do and the texts they study. Tani’s non-teaching life is made up of playing music, experimenting with cooking, hiking, water sports, and visit to the bonsai museum at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
Nina Cohen teaches history at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ, helping students understand that history is not a collection of dates and names, but an analysis that offers narratives to make sense of those facts. A graduate of Barnard College and the University of Pennsylvania, she studied the production and readership of 17th-century Hebrew print. She is also an avid fiction reader, and is greatly enjoying rediscovering old favorites through the eyes of her three young children. As an Orthodox Jew teaching at Orthodox institutions, Nina finds it incredibly fulfilling to help younger members of her community connect to the complex and non-linear trajectories of historical actors, presenting students with data points for personal reflection and growth.
Anne Ebersman is Director of Community Service and Justice at Abraham Joshua Heschel School. Professionally, she is invigorated by powerful, demanding texts such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and by genuine conversations with curious students. Beyond the classroom, she is invigorated by practicing yoga, by observing the Sabbath, and by drinking wine with friends. She is an excellent storyteller.
Petrus Fortune teaches AP World, Global, and African-American History at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Fort Greene (Brooklyn). He most enjoys teaching students about segregation and the Civil Rights era, showcasing democracy and citizenship as pro-active. He enjoys sports of several varieties, the Met, and bonding with students in the classroom.
Catherine Guerriero is President of La Salle Academy in Manhattan and also teaches Advanced American Politics and Civic Education. At La Salle, she gets the most energy from when the full school community is gathered together, and when she is in the classroom teaching with the students she describes as being “hungry and on fire for life’s greatest expectations.” Teaching the importance of participation in the students’ own lives and the political realities of our country are the cornerstones of her work. She also loves the time she spends with her daughter and walking underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
Audi Hecht currently serves as Chairperson of the History Department at Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) where she teaches history and government and is a doctoral candidate at the Azrieli School of Education and Administration at Yeshiva University. An ideas enthusiast, Audi draws inspiration from the exploration of theories in books, in dialogue, in learning and gender studies in particular. Her ideal NYC spot is a park, a town hall, a courthouse, or a street corner that is a hub for political activity and energy. Audi feels most connected to her school and community by the feeling that possibilities are limitless and people, as change agents, can paint the landscape in which they choose to live.
Dennis Kallo, of St. Joseph High School in Brooklyn Heights, has taught social studies, including Global History, US Government, and Economics, for the last six years. When he is not teaching, he is studying for his PhD in World History at St. John's University. It is these studies that ultimately fuel his teaching. Brooklyn Heights is not just a workplace; it is also his favorite place in the city, as there is so much to do and see there, culturally and historically. Dennis feels the most connected to his school when the faculty are engaged in student-led events—cultural, political, and other.
Caitlin Kerwin oversees Civic Spirit and teaches honors American and New York Politics at La Salle Academy in the East Village as part of a small, passionate, mission-based staff and faculty. Driving student involvement animates her in her work, and dance and social justice work animate her life outside school. David McCullough’s 1776 has been motivational for her understanding of history, with its realistic depictions of the battles pitched in the New York area.
Murray Sragow teaches 11th grade US History at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Washington Heights. He feels deeply connected to the school’s demand for excellence in both Jewish and general studies, and builds his approach to teaching around getting students to think about their role in the outside world beyond their immediate community. Murray is also called to be outdoors hiking, biking, kayaking, and admiring the George Washington Bridge when it is lit up at night.
Daniel Linehan is Dean of Students at St. Jean Baptiste High School in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he also teaches 11th graders. He tries to travel at every possible break in his non-teaching life, and believes that experiencing the culture, customs, foods, and wines of different peoples and places brings to life both the great diversity of our world as well as the hidden, common bonds which make us a human family. If he ever needs to escape that world, he retreats to the Met. He is most connected to his school when students are engaged in this world, when they see something unjust and come to his office to make a plan to take action toward the potential of change—to raise awareness, to begin a drive to collect items, or to protest. You are not allowed to complain in his class unless you have a plan to make things better.
Wilson Martinez teaches a wide variety of subjects at De La Salle Academy in Manhattan, where he also oversees the Public Debate Forum. He especially enjoys using classroom duties to motivate students to strengthen their self-confidence and self-expression. Wilson is also fueled by neighborhood organizations such as the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which advocates for different issues affecting quality of life for Northwest Bronx residents. One of his favorite New York City sites is St. Patrick's Cathedral, where some of his heroes reside, and his greatest connection with the school community comes during times of retreat and reflection
Bill Mason has been in Catholic schools for 33 years, including his current position teaching US History and Government, and Holocaust Studies at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. He is invigorated by immersing himself in the study of history and the groundbreaking statements of freedom and liberty in documents such as the Declaration of Independence. He feels he has never worked a day in his professional career, because he loves what he does. Bill’s goal is to be involved in projects that make students better people and citizens. There is no better place on the planet to him than his home of Brooklyn.
Liz Peralta is very grateful to be an administrator at St. Joseph High School in downtown Brooklyn. Her background in museums leads her to explore the rich history of Brooklyn and the untold stories of those who've settled here. She uses that love of history to show the students in her school that history surrounds them wherever they go, waiting to be seen in neighborhoods and building façades. She also volunteers with Crossroads Culture Events, in order to help bring dialogue on topics of faith, politics, and the arts and their connection to one another. The strong community life inside and outside St. Joseph drives her professional work. In moments of calm, she can be found at Roosevelt Island.
Rivka Schwartz is an administrator and teacher of US History and Jewish Philosophy at SAR Academy in Riverdale (the Bronx). Her work in the classroom integrates Jewish values and Torah teaching with the wisdom of the broader world. In this pursuit, it is critical to her to convey to students that the simple answers are almost always the wrong ones, and she is inspired by the brutal honesty and Biblical inflections of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. To soothe the distress she feels over the current state of our republic and its value and institutions, she reads, thinks, and writes about the big and challenging issues facing the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. She will be happy to show you around some of the underappreciated beauties of Upper Manhattan, such as the Little Red Lighthouse and Inwood Hill Park.
Beverly Segal will, in her next life, pursue her interest in design, architecture or engineering. In this life, she will be overseeing Civic Spirit for Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Hollis, NY. Her approach to education is to help her students solve problems, big and small, with creativity and a sense of humor. It is this approach that allows her to solidify the personal connections she has with faculty and students alike, which is what she values most about her work. When not with her students, she likes to take multiple round trips on the Staten Island Ferry, just to be out on the water and see the magnificent harbor sights.
Tiphanie Shoemaker teaches at Luria Academy of Brooklyn, where she helps students develop a deep love of literature and using analytical and critical reading and thinking skills to appreciate stories on a deeper level. Her ultimate goal with students is to give them the tools, skills, and resources to be engaged community members and positive forces in the world. When she is not overseeing the teaching and learning at Luria, she enjoys politics, baseball, science fiction, the guilty pleasure of bad TV, and consulting with new schools. Her favorite spots in Brooklyn are Greenwood Park and Prospect Park.
Seth Taylor is the Principal for General Studies at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and an instructor in Modern European History. He earned his Ph.D. in German History at New York University, and is the author of Left-Wing Nietzscheans: The Politics of German Expressionism, 1910-1920 and Between Tradition and Modernity: A History of the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy. A resident of New York’s upper west side, my favorite location is my building’s rooftop garden where in summer I get to chat with my wife, my two children and friends as we watch the sun set. While I enjoy school administration, what most connects me to my school is teaching AP European History to interested and inquisitive students. A trip to abroad every summer is important in order to recharge the batteries.
Jonathan Waechter teaches Ancient Civilizations and US History at De La Salle Academy in Manhattan, with a focus on cultural currency. He most enjoys the sense of community his school gives him, as well as pushing the norms by trying something new—a new course, a new program, a special assembly. Aside from that, he finds interest in old houses, travel foreign and domestic, boating with motors, sails, and/or paddles, and skiing. If you need to find Jonathan, go to Grand Central Station and meet him at the clock.
John Walsh is an assistant principal and teaches macroeconomics and US government at St. Peter’s Boys High School on Staten Island, a school with a family atmosphere where close relationships are cultivated between teachers and students. He wants his students to learn that civic education is about understanding their roles in the broader community. John is also St. Peter’s tennis and basketball coach, and spends his spare time at various parks around Staten Island.
Ethan Zadoff chairs the history department at the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ, overseeing the entire scope and sequence of the history curriculum as well as directing the school’s professional development. Outside of my school responsibilities, my limited time is dedicated to my family. In his history classes, he wants students to understand that history is not simply a single narrative or the comprehension of past events, but a multitude of perspectives and opinions that affect today’s world. The most invigorating moments outside work come from the simple experiences of the day-to-day with his family, and the vast, complex experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an educator, Ethan values how the sense of community in celebrations and mourning, learning and playing, allow the factors that divide us to recede into the background to allow for the school to come together despite the differences that persist.
Rabbi Robert S. Hirt is the Vice President Emeritus of RIETS (Rabbinical Seminary) Yeshiva University in New York City. He served as a faculty member teaching leadership and values. Rabbi Hirt was the Chair and Series Editor of the Orthodox Forum, a think tank and publication project (23 volumes) on the interface of Judaism and General Culture. Together with his wife Virginia they founded the Washington entity Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) devoted to reducing America’s dependence on oil.