Jeffrey Barrack, Neil Cooper, David Edman and Paula Joffe are committed to career, Jewish communal service and Zionist pursuits. Despite the demands of their hectic professional and personal lives, the four readily accepted chairperson Harris Devor's invitation to join the inaugural class of Philadelphia Israel Scholars. The yearlong program, sponsored by Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, will build upon the scholars' love for and knowledge of Israel, and enhance their effectiveness as Israel advocates locally and globally.
Middle East analyst Asaf Romirowsky is coordinating the program as a consultant to the Center.
Barrack, an attorney, stated that the group, modeled after the Wexner Heritage Program -- a prestigious Jewish literacy and leadership training designed to create a bank of committed, educated leaders for Jewish communal organizations and agencies -- offered him an opportunity to "deepen my already close personal and professional connections with Devor, a forensic accountant.
"Harris and I first met when I used his services on a class-action suit," he said, adding that, "over time, we discovered that we shared strong Zionist backgrounds, a deep love for Torah and solid and similar family values."
When Devor, described by Barrack as his "wonderful friend and mentor," shared his desire to create a "Wexner-style," high-level think tank here to help groom the next generation of Israel advocates, Barrack knew that he wanted to sign on. As incoming chairman of Federation's Men's Cabinet who will spearhead a mission of leaders to Israel this summer, he knows firsthand the importance of linking young professionals to the land and people of Israel.
"Through our involvement in the program, we are educating ourselves on key issues facing Israel today, and are learning how to advance Israel's cause in the media and influence public policy," he said.
David Edman, who defines himself as a "committed and dedicated pro-Israel activist, shares Barrack's enthusiasm for the "opportunity to learn and interact with like-minded people." He termed the high-level experts on Mideast issues who have addressed the group during their bimonthly sessions as "incredible."
He is particularly excited about the planned excursion to Israel next winter to participate in the 10th annual Herzliya Conference. The conference -- hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center, a private Israeli university -- attracts Israel's president, prime minister, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff and other key government leaders to discuss crucial national policy issues.
"I am very proud to be part of this effort to enhance our community of pro-Israel activists in the Philadelphia area," said Edman, who emphasized that "an activist must be knowledgeable and be able to share this knowledge with others."
Edman credits the numerous conversations he had with his family -- several of whom survived the Holocaust and made aliyah -- about the need for a safe, secure Israel. He's been involved with the America Israel Public Affairs Committee for more than 20 years.
Edman, who was AIPAC chair from 2003-07, said that while his father was reticent about his experiences in the camps, "my uncle and cousins were passionate about the need to strengthen and protect our Jewish homeland."
Paula Joffe defines Israel as "my motivator as both an avocation and a vocation." Professionally, she works with Israeli early-stage companies across diverse industry sectors. Her firm, JD Partners, also represents a dozen independent Israeli jewelry designers who are interested in selling to the pro-Israel Christian market.
She has been a member of the National Executive Committee of AIPAC for the past decade, and has "relished the opportunity to work with members of Congress on issues that impact the safety and security of Israel."
Joffe shares Barrack's fondness for group chair Harris Devor, who succeeded her as chair of AIPAC's Greater Philadelphia Leadership Council. She said that it's a privilege to share pro-Israel activism with others in the Greater Philadelphia community.
"I believe that getting involved on Israel's behalf is a life-changing experience -- one that people thank me for sharing with them," she said.
Neil Cooper, current chair of Federation's Men's Cabinet, stated his belief that the program will enhance the "talent pool" of local Israel advocates. "All of us will benefit from the in-depth knowledge we have gleaned from our speakers and the spirited conversations with one another," he said.
Group members also include Daniel Bacine, John Cohn, Matthew Handel, Francine Lipstein and Craig Snider.
To learn more about the Philadelphia Israel Scholars Program, call Jeri Zimmerman, 215-832-0553 (email: [email protected] ).