Our Staff

Michael FreundMichael Freund
Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel

Michael writes a syndicated column and feature stories for The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Contact Michael Freund

Edith BlausteinEdith Blaustein
Deputy Director-General of Administration

Before making aliyah in 2008, she served as Director of the Center for Judaic Studies in Uruguay on behalf of the Jewish Agency. Previously, she was the director of the Yavne Institute of Montevideo, where she prepared educational programming on subjects such as volunteerism and bibliodrama, and authored the book Words From the Heart. Edith has an MA degree in education, and worked as a teacher of history and ontological coaching in Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Israel. Contact Edith Blaustein

Rabbi Eliyahu BirnbaumRabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum
Rabbi & Educational Director of Shavei Israel

Since 1998 Eliyahu has served as Director of Machon Amiel (training rabbis and spiritual leaders for work in Diaspora communities) and as a judge on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Conversion Court. Rabbi Birnbaum is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on Jewish faith, practice, and philosophy. Between 1985 and 1990 he worked in the World Zionist Organization in various capacities: lecturer to youth in Central America on Zionism and Judaism; Latin America Adviser; and Manager of Spanish Publications in the Department of Culture and Religious Education. He was the Chief Rabbi of Uruguay between 1992-1997. Eliyahu was born in Uruguay and made aliyah in 1972. He studied in Har Zion Yeshiva and received his rabbinical ordination in 1982. He holds a Masters degree in Jewish Thought from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy from Bar-Ilan University. Contact Rabbi Birnbaum

Rabbi Chanoch AvizedekRabbi Chanoch Avizedek
Director of Bnei Menashe Aliyah & Absorption Department

Rabbi Avizedek, who previously served as an emissary of Shavei Israel to the Bnei Menashe in northeastern India, now oversees the organization’s various projects related to the aliyah and absorption of the community in Israel. In the past, he has held a number of important positions in the fields of formal and informal education, including Commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Religious Midrasha, and he also served as an emissary in South America of the HaNoar veHaHalutz movement and the Jewish Agency’s Department for Torah Education in the Diaspora. In addition, Rabbi Avizedek was involved in promoting various educational and settlement projects in Israel, and he was one of the initiators and founders of the musical Yeshiva “Kinor David”. In his spare time, he dedicates himself to agriculture and psychology studies. Contact Rabbi Chanoch Avizedek

Laura Ben-DavidLaura Ben-David
Director of Marketing & New Media

Laura is a marketing consultant, writer, and photographer. Originally from New York, she made aliyah from Boca Raton, Florida in 2002. Before joining Shavei Israel, Laura managed all social media at Nefesh B’Nefesh. Laura is the author of the book Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel, as well as numerous published articles both in print and digital media. Her subjects of choice include Israel, aliyah, and social media – and sometimes all three at once. Contact Laura Ben-David

Tzivia KusminskyTzivia Kusminsky
Head of the Bnei Anousim & Hidden Jews of Poland Departments

Tzivia has worked with needy children as an educator in informal education in the Argentinean community. She also taught Judaism to children who did not receive a Jewish education. Born in Argentina, she made aliyah to Israel in 5762 (2002). A graduate of the Faculties for Political Science and History of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she completed a Masters degree in Public Policy at Tel Aviv University. Contact Tzivia Kusminsky

Esther SurikovaEsther Surikova
Head of the Russia & Eastern Europe Department

Before making aliyah in 2012, Esther served in the Office of Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow. She also worked as a lawyer in a private corporation, a public relations specialist at the ORT CIS, and a special project manager at Ner LeElef, Jerusalem. Esther was granted a B.A. degree in international law at Moscow State University of International Relations under Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and another B.A. in political science at the Open University of Israel. She published a number of research works devoted to law, international politics, Jewish tradition, Middle Eastern conflict, and legal status of mass media in different countries. Contact Esther Surikova

Rabbanit Renana BirnbaumRabbanit Renana Birnbaum
Director of Machon Miriam

Machon Miriam is Shavei Israel’s Spanish-Portuguese language ulpan for return. Renana also serves as Director of the Training Program for Rabbis’ wives in the Diaspora. She continues to work together with her husband Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum in assisting the Jewish community in Uruguay. She has taught primary schools, supervised kindergartens, taught at teacher seminars, and lectured to adults. Renana has a Bachelors degree in literature and a Masters in Jewish Philosophy.

Avi MizrahiAvi Mizrahi
Project Director for immigration of Bnei Menashe & their acclimatization in Israel

Avi is an immigration and education emissary in Ethiopia and Turkey. He directed “Operation Moses” and “Operation Solomon” in Ethiopia. He was the Jewish Agency’s Project Director for the immigration and absorption of the Bnei Menashe who immigrated under the Law of Return. A social worker by profession, his main specialty is the immigration and absorption of Jews in distress such as Ethiopians, Persians, Syrians, and the Bnei Menashe. Contact Avi Mizrahi

Tzvi KhauteTzvi Khaute
Coordinator for Bnei Menashe

Tzvi responds to queries and questions, accompanies new immigrants during their absorption process in Israel, and teaches at an ulpan for converts in Kiryat Arba, as well as lecturing on various topics. In addition, he is a volunteer in his community in Israel. Tzvi was Shavei Israel’s emissary to Manipur, where he set up the organization’s local headquarters. In India, he taught economics at a high school for four years. After making aliyah, he studied at the Machon Meir Yeshiva. Born in Northeastern India, he made aliyah in 5760 (2000) with his family, along with the entire Bnei Menashe community. He holds a baccalaureate degree in economics from the University of Delhi and a baccalaureate degree in Jewish philosophy from the Herzog Institute in Alon Shvut. Contact Tzvi Khaute

Shlomo SherwoodShlomo Sherwood
Director of the Conversion & Absorption Center for Bnei Menashe

Born in Israel, Shlomo has a BA in economics and business administration with specialization in systems administration. He has volunteered with immigrants from Ethiopia. Shlomo was formerly a manager in the hotel industry, in large catering companies, in urban infrastructure business, and worked as deputy director of one of the country’s largest supermarkets. Contact Shlomo Sherwood

Velvel TcherninVelvel Tchernin
Coordinator for the Subbotniks

Born in 1958 in Moscow, Velvel immigrated to Israel in 1990. He has a Masters degree in history from the University of Lomonosov, Moscow and a Ph.D. in Jewish literature from The Bar-Ilan University. Velvel learned at Hartman Beit Midrash. He is the author of many scientific articles in the field of ethnography and sociology of Israel. Among other things, he researches the subject of the Subbotniks Jews. He previously was an emissary of the Jewish Agency in Russia, Byelorussia, and the Baltic States and vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress. Velvel teaches at Ariel and lives in Kfar Eldad at Gush Etzion.

eran1Coordinator for the Kaifeng Jews

Born and raised in Israel, Eran received his BA from the School of Business and East Asian studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received his MA in Chinese at the University of Kaifeng in China. Since 2011 he has been with Shavei Israel coordinating the activities of descendants of the Kaifeng Jewish community. Responsible for members of the community who wish to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel and deals with their conversion process and their absorption in the country. Contact Eran Barzilay

Rachel KachlonRachel Kachlon
Office Manager

Born in Netanya, Rachel studies alternative medicine at the Bina College in Jerusalem. She previously worked as director of client service centers for a prestigious company in Israel and directed an English studies project for elementary and high school students. She volunteers helping people with low vision. Contact Rachel Kachlon