Board Meeting: Rebecca Kirzner

Edward Hoffman

- What do you do for a living? 

I am the campaigns director for HIAS – Hebrew Immigration Aid Society – which is the Jewish agency that works for the protection of refugees worldwide.

- And where do you work?

I work for HIAS’s national office in New York, and I work on the Jewish Community Engagement team – the response to the global refugee crisis.

- It’s not limited to the Middle East, I gather?

It is not.  There are 65 million people worldwide who have been displaced from their homes due to conflict and violence.  HIAS works with refugees from all over the world, and we are both a resettlement agency and an organization with international offices that help refugees within the countries to which they have fled.

- What is your Jewish background?

I was raised pretty Jewishly.  My family lived in many different places.  I moved a lot growing up, but we were always members of a synagogue and it was very important to me because even as we moved around I was always a member of a Jewish community.

- Were you a bat mitzvah?

I was.  I had my bat mitzvah in England, as my family lived in Weybridge, Surrey at that time.  Nowadays I am also very Jewishly active: I’m a Jewish professional, my wife is a rabbi, and I have four other rabbis in my family.

- Are there particular progressive causes that interest you?

I would say that I’ve been involved with a number of different issues.  At the moment professionally I work for the protection of refugees, and so I am very interested in refugee and immigration issues.  My previous job was with J Street, an organization that advocates for pro-peace policies related to Israel and the Middle East.  Before that I was a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, so I am also interested and moved by education issues.

- When you are not thinking about JSPAN, what are your other interests?

That’s tough; I’ve been thinking about JSPAN a great deal. 

I work a lot.  I am very committed to what I’m doing in building a Jewish response to the refugee crisis; it’s been a big year in terms of people’s awareness about global refugee issues.  Just about exactly a year ago, there was a photo published of a little boy named Aylan Kurdi.  He was three, and his body washed up on the beach of Turkey, and that photo and that tragedy moved people.  After the Aylan Kurdi photo, basically the entire world started paying attention to the refugee crisis, and that played out in my job because the Jewish community here was galvanized around the refugee crisis in a new way – people advocating, caring, writing to their members of Congress, speaking out, learning, holding programs and even volunteering in resettlement activities in their local communities.

I also am committed to my community - I live in West Germantown, and participate in the Germantown Jewish Center community.  I also like to bake and I’m a board game fanatic.

- What book is presently on your night table?

I just picked this up in an airport – “The Last Bookaneer” by Matthew Pearl.  It’s a fictional work about “bookaneers” – literary pirates who would steal a manuscript from a famous author and then try to run it overseas to a different continent and get it published under a different name in a different place.  I guess that would be more difficult with the internet.

I guess so.  Thank you.