JOIN Staff

karla at the summitKarla Van Praag, Executive Director
kvanpraag (at) joinforjustice.org

Karla Van Praag is the founding Executive Director of JOIN for Justice: the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network, a national institution dedicated to training, supporting, and connecting Jewish organizers and their communities. Before launching JOIN in 2012, Karla directed its predecessor organization, the Jewish Organizing Initiative, a community organizing apprenticeship program for young Jewish adults based in Boston. She led its transformation from a local grassroots organization to a successful national nonprofit that trains thousands of leaders across the country, more than tripling its budget and helping it become the go-to organization for Jewish organizations to receive mentoring and training on what it takes to build powerful and effective communities and social justice efforts. Karla has a rich background in leadership development, youth programs, nonprofit management, service learning, and organizing, including serving as the Director of Planning and Leadership Development at Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council and as Deputy Director of the Somerville Community Corporation. Karla holds a graduate degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she was a Public Service Fellow, and is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She currently serves as an Advisory Board Member at Real Food Challenge, and is on the leadership team of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a network of 57 American Jewish social justice organizations that organize collective action in the Jewish social justice field. She lives in Revere, MA with her husband Rafael and their three children.


Jeannie Appleman, Senior Organizer and Trainer
jappleman (at) joinforjustice.org

Jeannie Appleman co-founded the Seminary Leadership Project in 2005. Through the SLP, she has trained more than 300 seminary students in organizing, congregational development, and leadership. In the last few years, she has worked closely with Conservative movement alumni from the SLP, and through JOIN’s partnership, has trained Conservative Rabbis from the Rabbinical Association. She has also trained faculty, administrators and students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and has trained and developed hundreds of synagogue leaders from all four movements. Recently, Jeannie served as the lead organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation‘s affiliate broad-based organizations in Long Island and Queens, as well as training synagogue leaders in their Westchester affiliate. Jeannie has organized for the last 25 years in New York, Chicago and Louisiana, doing broad-based, tenant, electoral, anti-intervention, and issue-based organizing. Jeannie has worked with scores of synagogue leaders to develop congregational development strategies to grow and strengthen their communities. Jeannie is coaching 29 Rabbis in our Chut Fellowship in D.C., Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and training and mentoring leaders and Rabbis from 6 Synagogues in conducting listening campaigns in Baltimore, in partnership with the Associated and the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development, through its Engagement Partnership.


EllieEllie_Axe Axe, Director of Consulting Programs and Operations
eaxe (at) joinforjustice.org

Ellie has been a member of the JOIN community since she was a fellow in 2002-2003.  Ellie brings her energy for relationships and capacity building to the JOIN team.  Prior to JOIN, Ellie worked at JCRC Boston organizing Jewish young adults. In that role, she deepened her relationship to Judaism and learned how to develop leaders and coach others to take action. Having developed an itch for organizing, she then worked as an organizer and became the Massachusetts Organizing Director of Stand for Children where she organized state and local campaigns focused on public education funding. During those three years, she cut her teeth on electoral politics and began to understand her passion for supervising and coaching organizers. After spending seven years in the nonprofit sector, she returned to school with the hopes of pushing her leadership skills and toolbox and got an MBA at Simmons School of Management. Organizational behavior and operations piqued her interest, and she became invested in finding a way of merging the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Ellie was able to fulfill this goal when she worked as the Director of Operations at Common Impact, an organization that builds programs for for-profit employees to lend their skills and expertise to the nonprofit sector through skills-based volunteering. She is thrilled to be returning to her roots where she got her start as an organizer.  She is excited to dedicate her time to coaching and supporting this year’s fellows and help JOIN create systems for growth. Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, she now lives in Cambridgeport with her husband and daughter.


BessBess Beller-Levesque, Operations and Grant Officer
bbellerlevesque (at) joinforjustice.org

Bess is JOIN’s Operations and Grant Officer, responsible for managing JOIN’s finances and HR, working with the Director of Development on fundraising, as well as supporting the Executive Director and the Board. Originally from Maine, she moved to Boston in 2012 to be a JOIN Fellow. She was placed with Toxics Action Center, where she worked for three years training and supporting grassroots leaders around New England to keep their communities safe from pollution. She is a graduate of Smith College with a degree in Sociology, and an alumna of the Adamah fellowship. Outside of her work at JOIN, Bess volunteers with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and sings in her local community chorus.


Allegra 2Allegra Heath-Stout, Fellowship Director and Trainer
astout (at) joinforjustice.org

As JOIN’s Fellowship Director and Trainer, Allegra is responsible for guiding the development of young Jewish organizers through the Jewish Organizing Fellowship and providing organizing training to other Jewish institutions. She started in this role in June 2016, but she has been part of the JOIN community since she was a fellow in 2012-2013. Allegra worked at her JOIN fellowship placement, the Boston Center for Independent Living, for four years, organizing people with disabilities to fight for access and civil rights. Through this work, Allegra discovered her love of leadership development, training, and social justice education. She is excited to apply these skills to directing the Fellowship at JOIN. Originally from New Jersey, Allegra has a B.A. in Psychology and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Wesleyan University.


Elana Kogan, Director of Special Projects
ekogan (at) joinforjustice.org

Elana Kogan is the Director of Organizing Educational Courses at JOIN. Previously, she served as the Senior Director of Organizing and then National Field Director of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, where she led the organization’s base-building efforts including the creation of a new chapter-building model.  Elana has also worked at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston as Director of Planning and Leadership Development and Director of Synagogue Organizing, where she organized synagogues, developed leaders, and ran campaigns in partnership with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and other coalitions.  During that time, she also served as the loaned executive to the Jewish Organizing Initiative for several months. Elana has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a Master of Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Elana is also a Certified Consulting Hypnotist and founder of Wellness Through Hypnosis.


Meir Lakein, Director of OrganizingMeir Lakein, Director of Organizing
mlakein (at) joinforjustice.org

Meir has worked as a professional community organizer for over 25 years, helping develop the model for engaging Jewish communities in broad based organizing, and serving as the mentor of a generation of young organizers and rabbis. Among Meir’s work at JOIN, he has consulted to dozens of synagogues and Jewish organizations, designed JOIN’s clergy fellowship, and served as a lead trainer for JOIN’s highly acclaimed online course.  Prior to coming to JOIN, Meir served as the Lead Organizer of the Greater Boston Synagogue Organizing Project of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council. Through GBSOP, 14 synagogues, hundreds of leaders, both adults and teens, and thousands of Jewish community members organized to identify their common values and interests, develop a common story and mission, and take action to live their values and defend their interests, both in the community around public issues and within their own institutions.  Meir has also taught community organizing to hundreds of rabbinical students through classes and workshops with various seminaries.  Previously, Meir built powerful organizations of homeless people in Connecticut and of Sepharadi, Russian, and Arab public housing tenants in Israel, and worked as the lead organizer of the Brockton Interfaith Community, a coalition of 25 churches and synagogues.


yehuda-for-websiteYehuda Michael, Development and Administrative assistant
ymichael (at) joinforjustice.org

Yehuda is originally from Jerusalem; he moved to the United States to earn his Graduate Degree. Previously, Yehuda worked in public diplomacy, education, and advocacy in Jerusalem, Israel. Yehuda has actively participated in various volunteer services, which sparked his interest in the non-profit field. He received Bachelor of Arts, in Politics and Communication from Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem. Yehuda is currently attending graduate school at Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy and Management.


4Tali Smookler, Program and Communications Associate
tsmookler (at) joinforjustice.org

Tali started with JOIN in August 2015. Tali’s passion for community organizing  – specifically around climate change – began during the summer of 2010, when she participated in “New England Climate Summer.” On this program, she traveled across Massachusetts exclusively by bicycle with four other college students, and worked with communities to connect diverse constituencies within the emerging grassroots climate movement. Upon graduation from Brandeis University in 2013, Tali spent two years with the Repair the World Fellowship in Philadelphia. There, she partnered with the Jewish Farm School and urban farms to create the Philly Farm Crew, a program which creates volunteer and educational opportunities on urban farms. She is excited to support the growing movement of faith-based organizers with JOIN for Justice.


alex-weisman-2Alex Weissman, Philadelphia Area Coordinator
aweissman (at) joinforjustice.org

Alex Weissman began with JOIN in the Spring of 2016 to explore how JOIN can have a more meaningful presence in his hometown of Philadelphia. In addition to spending time with JOIN, Alex is in his final year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College studying for the rabbinate. While at RRC, Alex has served congregations, hospice patients, teens, and elders. He served as a rabbinic intern with Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild and completed T’ruah’s summer fellowship in human rights. He first experienced community organizing with Jews For Racial and Economic Justice in NYC where he had the pleasure of being in the first cohort of the Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship and experiencing a win with the Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers campaign. Prior to rabbinical school, Alex served at the Social Justice Coordinator at Congregation Beit Simchat Tohrah in NYC and worked in LGBT public health research and advocacy. He has a particular interest in the spiritual lives of organizers who are building a more just world.