The Board of Directors supports the mission and work of the Jews of Color Initiative with their strategic thinking, professional networks, and ingenuity. Working alongside staff, the Board of Directors is responsible for upholding our mission and providing invaluable project oversight.
Ilana (she/her) is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jews of Color Initiative. Her work sits at the center of Jewish community, racial equity, and justice, is anchored by the voices and experience of Jews of Color, and is focused on grantmaking, research and field building, and community education.
As a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered and Code Switch, with pieces featured in eJewish Philanthropy and The Foundation Review, and an Eli Talk titled Who Counts, Race and the Jewish Future with over 36,000 views, Ilana is passionate about all things at the intersection of Jewish community, racial justice, Jews of Color, education, and philanthropy.
Ilana was previously the Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Director, East Bay for the San Francisco, Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council.
A Senior Schusterman Fellow who is always searching Jewish text for discussion of equity and justice, Ilana received her B.A. in Sociology from California State University-Humboldt and her M.A. in Educational Pedagogy from Mills College.
Tonda (she/her) is the Senior Director of Finance and Operations at the Jews of Color Initiative. She is a leadership development professional, consultant, activist, and educator. The principal and founder of T. Case Consulting, she has provided embodied coaching, guidance on culture change, and strategic program management. Tonda is the former Project Director of the JWOC Resilience Circle at DIMENSIONS Inc., and previously worked as Senior Advisor on Amazon’s groundbreaking Amazon Connections team. A former board member of Bend the Arc, she is also an alumna of the Selah Leadership Program.
With over 25 years in movement building, her activism currently focuses on partnership creation, advocacy, and strategic planning in communities of color and in the Jews of Color community. Tonda is a founding member of #JWOCmarching, a Jewish Women of Color racial justice advocacy group that led the 2019 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. She holds a BA in Ethnic Studies and an MBA, both from Mills College.
Arya (he/him) is the Senior Director of Programs at the Jews of Color Initiative. He is a first-generation American born to Iranian-Jewish immigrants from Tehran. For nearly 15 years, Arya has cultivated his leadership in Jewish communal service at Hillel on campus, Hillel International, and JQ International. A proud queer Jew who is passionate about empowering diverse Jewish identity, enriching equitable Jewish community, and ensuring inclusive pathways toward Jewish continuity, Arya has also served as a lay leader with other Jewish orgs including JDC Entwine, JPro, AJC, Schusterman’s ROI community, and others.
Arya earned his B.A. in psychology at the University of California San Diego, and an M.A. in organizational behavior at New York University.
Gabi (she/her) is the Senior Program Officer at the Jews of Color Initiative. She has extensive experience working in the Jewish community, with a focus on advocacy, philanthropy, and multicultural community building. Gabi’s work is grounded in her intersectional identity, which inspires her commitment to social and racial justice issues around the world.
Gabi received her B.A. in Global Studies from The New School in NYC, and received her M.A. in Human Rights and Transitional Justice from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2020, she was a Jeremiah Fellow with Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, focusing on immigrant justice and voting rights.
Gabi was recently selected for class 7 of the prestigious Wexner Field Fellowship.
Riki (she/her) is the Program Director of the Jews of Color Initiative’s New York Hub. Prior to joining the Initiative, she was a Food Justice Fellow with Repair the World in Brooklyn where she learned about urban farming, food pantries, and SNAP benefits along with a Jewish lens to community engagement. She also has a background working in Asian American Pacific Islander organizations as well as immigration justice groups.
Riki is rooted in the theory and praxis of Ethnic Studies that research should be generated by and for community relevance. She received her B.A. in Asian American Studies and Sociology from Pitzer College.
Emma (she/they) is the Communications Manager at the Jews of Color Initiative. Emma is dedicated to work that centers racial justice, Jewish peoplehood, and identity. She is a scholar-activist whose research examines the identities and experiences of Jews of Color, Jews by Choice, Jewish women, LGBTQ+ Jews—and all their intersections. Before joining the Initiative, Emma spent several years as an instructor in undergraduate classrooms teaching on justice and inequality, and serving as the Managing Editor of an academic journal.
Emma received her Ph.D. in Sociology and her M.A. in Sociology from the University of Connecticut, and her B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Simmons University.
Theresa (she/her) is the Executive Assistant and Board Liaison of the Jews of Color Initiative. Before joining the Initiative, Theresa worked as the Executive Assistant and Office Manager at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. Her extensive experience working with C-level executives has built a network of financial, human resources, hotel and office management, and nonprofit professionals throughout the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area.
Theresa holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Howard University, and additionally has numerous continuing education certificates, is a Certified Meeting Planner (CMP), and a D.C. Licensed, Insured and Bonded Notary.
Jade (she/her) is a Program Associate at the Jews of Color Initiative. She was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado before heading to the University of Kansas where she received her B.A. in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies with a triple minor in American studies, Political Science, and Jewish studies. There, she wrote her senior thesis, “Jews of Color: Experiences of Inclusion and Exclusion,” an examination into the experiences of Jews of Color, racism in Jewish spaces, and how to best create actively anti-racist Jewish spaces. After graduating in May of 2021, she moved to New York City to begin her career in the Jewish professional world. Jade’s personal passions include transformative justice, intersectional anti-racist work, her house plant collection, and creating hand-thrown pottery.
Sarah Starks (she/her) is a Junior Program Officers at the Jews of Color Initiative. She has experience as a Jewish educator, focusing on diversity, community building and environmentalism. Sarah has a background working in Black organizations as a student and is eager to support communities of color on a larger scale. Empowerment, liberation, community and cultivating meaningful relationships with the environment lie at the epicenter of Sarah’s approach to justice. Sarah’s work is grounded by her multicultural identity, which fuels her passion and commitment to social justice movements globally.
Sarah holds a B.A. from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Political Science and Africana Studies as well as a minor in history.
Jordan (he/him) is a Junior Program Officer of the Jews of Color Initiative. He is equipped with a decade of storytelling experience through an intersectional lens, and four years as a Jewish communal professional. His lived experience as a fat, queer, Afro-Jew deepens his commitment to cultivating diverse and inclusive leadership in the Jewish community and inspires his work centering on justice and liberation. He previously served as the Communications and Creative Specialist at the Leichtag Foundation. He is a writer, photographer, speaker, and podcaster, focusing on LGBTQ+ experiences, anti-racism, belonging, and fat liberation. Jordan particularly strives to create a pathway to collective liberation through joy. Jordan has expanded his leadership in the Jewish community by participating in programs such as Bend the Arc’s Selah, Upstart’s Change Accelerator, Uri L’Tzedek’s Torah and Social Justice, and Schusterman’s ROI. He holds a BA in Journalism from CSU Long Beach.
Board of Directors
Janu Mendel, Chair
Janu (he/him) was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He completed his B.Sc. in Political Science in 2005 at the University of the West Indies. He immigrated to the United States in 2006 and worked in corporate business, later finding his personal and professional home in Miami’s Jewish community. He was recruited as an Outreach Fellow for Temple Beth Am in 2013, while also serving as the Director of Engagement at the University of Miami Hillel. He is currently the founding Executive Director of Repair the World Miami. Janu is an alumnus of the Pardes Summer Program and Bend the Arc’s Selah Leadership Program for Jews of Color, and a current Wexner Field Fellow.
Ginna (she/her) is a political strategist, writer and consultant, and previous Chief Strategy Officer at Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. Ginna has worked as Managing Director of the Democracy Collaborative at ReThink Media, at the Center for Responsible Lending, Full Court Press Communications, The OpEd Project, SPIN Academy, and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Ginna is a frequent speaker and writer on democracy, race, racism in the Jewish community, Jewish community diversity, and leadership, and has been published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more. An alum of the Jeremiah Fellowship and the Selah Leadership Program, and a 2019 Schusterman Fellow, Ginna is a native southerner and the mother of four amazing kids.
Thor (he/him) has been a key player in the urban development world for over 20 years, specializing in social impact and catalytic real estate development and community revitalization. He previously worked on the development of the Parkmerced project and the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, where he served as a liaison between the community, the Mayor’s office, the Navy, and the developer. He also helped lead the workforce development of public housing revitalization known as HOPE SF.
Outside of work, Thor contributes to his community by serving as a board member of the historic Bayview Opera House, the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Potrero Yard Modernization Project Working Group, and the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society.
Christina (she/her) is the first ever Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the San Francisco Forty Niners, where she leads inclusion and diversity efforts across the organization and the teams internships, fellowships and holistic training strategy. Prior to joining the 49ers, Jefferson spent six years with Sephora leading their diversity and inclusion efforts company-wide, including facilitation, the creation of diversity trainings, and providing oversight to all cultural programming.
Jefferson earned her B.S. from the University of Southern Indiana and her Masters in Human Resource Management from Golden Gate University. She is a member of several boards, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, Congregation Sherith Israel, and Better For You Wellness.
Dena (she/her) is a first-generation Black, Jewish, and queer woman who is passionate about collective and individual liberation and healing. Dena is a civil rights attorney and runs a DEI facilitation and consulting practice, Radical Roots, alongside her co-founder, a fellow Jewish woman of color. Leading from her values and lived experience, Dena has worked as an organizer in the areas of race equity, education, and campus sexual assault, taught English to immigrant and refugee students, designed social justice and race-equity-focused curricula, and facilitated workshops around race, white supremacy, and identity.
Dena graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law with a healthcare law certificate. Dena also holds an M.S.Ed. from The Johns Hopkins University. Currently, Dena works as a Trial Attorney for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the Employment Litigation Section, where she enforces Title VII against state and local governments. Previously, she served as the Board President for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.
Grant Advisory Committee
The Grant Advisory Committee helps ensure a fair and thoughtful decision-making process for grant awards. Together with the Jews of Color Initiative leadership staff, the group reviews grant applications and makes informed recommendations based on their own experience and expertise in the field.
Heather (she/her) is a career educator, school leader, and rabbi who is passionate about creating embracing spaces in both the religious and secular parts of her life. As the President of her synagogue, she strives to build a community that is safe for all of the intersecting identities in its membership. Heather merges her skill sets to work on committees and projects with various organizations to help move DEI work forward in Jewish spaces. Heather is the founder of The Multitudes, where she designs and facilitates workshops for synagogues and school communities that help cultivate a more racially inclusive lens. She was awarded METNY’s 2020 Ernest L. Rothschild Leadership Award and is honored to be in the 4th JOC only cohort of Bend the Arc’s Selah Leadership Program. Her favorite role of all, however, is as the mother of three amazing boys who are proudly descended from both freed slaves and Holocaust survivors.
Matthew (he/him) is a community organizer and Jewish educator based in Southern California (Tongva land). After studying ancient Jewish history and literature in graduate school in New York City, he returned to California in 2016 and has since pursued a career in political and social justice organizing, working not only for electoral campaigns but also with Jewish progressive nonprofits like Bend the Arc and Never Again Action on issues like immigration, housing, and racial justice. He also has years of experience in Jewish education, and is passionate about engaging with Jewish youth to build inclusive, affirming and Tikkun Olam-centered Jewish identities. Matthew is a proud Chinese American and Ashkenazi Jew, and he is committed to helping foster representation, visibility, creative expression and community for Jews of Color.
Anjelica N. Ruiz
Anjelica (she/her) is the Director of Libraries and Archives at Temple Emanu-El, where she also teaches Judaica to fourth graders. She previously worked at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas in the Center for Jewish Education and the donor services department. She holds an M.S. in library science from the University of North Texas; an M.S. in criminal justice from Texas State University; and a B.A. in criminology from St. Edward’s University. Anjelica is an alum of the Union for Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation Fellowship in the 2018 Jews of Color cohort and Bend The Arc’s Selah Fellowship as part of Cohort 16. She also completed the Anti-Defamation League’s Glass Leadership Institute in 2016 and currently sits on the ADL’s Texoma Regional Board.
Rebecca Leung is an educator and farmer at Abundance Farm, working with classes for preschool, elementary, and teenage aged students. Before coming to Abundance Farm, Rebecca worked on a variety of small to large scale sustainable production farms. Rebecca is a queer Chinese mixed race Jew interested in liberatory Jewish practices grounded in land and growing practices.
Jon (he/him) is a Gay, Jewish, Mexican organizing Jewish communities for LGBTQ+ rights. As Keshet’s Director of Community Mobilization, he has catalyzed Jews for political action in all 50 states. A Florida native, Jon graduated from Florida State University and survived one cold winter in New York as a Repair the World Fellow in Brooklyn before returning to Miami as Repair’s Program Manager, launching the Miami Repair community and fellowship. He has participated in Uri L’Tzedek Torah In Action, Bend The Arc Selah Leadership Program, Joyous Justice Ko’ach Fellowship, and Jewtina y Co. PUENTES Leadership and Resiliency. Jon serves on the board of Repair the World and is the chair of YLD Pride at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. A South Florida native, Jon currently lives in Miami with his fiance Kevin. Outside of work, Jon can be found on his Peloton, at the beach, reading queer fiction novels, and using online menus to plan the meal before getting to the restaurant.