Michael Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel. Born and raised in New York, Freund moved to Israel in 1995, and was appointed shortly thereafter by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as his Deputy Communications Director at the age of 28. After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office following the 1999 Israeli elections, Freund worked for the Jerusalem branch of Ruder Finn, the global public relations firm, and went on to found Shavei Israel in 2002. In addition, for the past 15 years, he has been a syndicated columnist for The Jerusalem Post. For his work at Shavei Israel, Freund has received a number of prizes and awards, including the Jerusalem Prize and the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism. Freund holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the co-author of the books “Do you have Jewish roots?”, which has been published in three languages, and “A Drop in the Ocean” and has recently completed his rabbinical ordination. Contact Michael Freund
Prior to making Aliyah to Israel in 2008, Edith Blaustein served as Director of the Center for Judaic Studies in Uruguay on behalf of the Jewish Agency. Previously, she was the Director and Chief Administrator of the Yavne Institute of Montevideo, where she prepared and oversaw educational programming, and authored the Spanish-language book, “Words From the Heart”. Blaustein 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 Hanoch Avizedek, who previously served as an emissary of Shavei Israel to the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India, now oversees the organization’s various Aliyah and Absorption projects in Israel for the Bnei Menashe. 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-David is a highly-regarded marketing consultant, writer, and photographer. Originally from New York, she made Aliyah from Boca Raton, Florida, in 2002. Prior to joining Shavei Israel, Laura managed social media for the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization. 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. Contact Laura Ben-David
Chaya Castillo oversees and directs Shavei Israel’s outreach work to the Bnei Anousim (“Marranos”) and the Hidden Jews of Poland. She was born and raised in Mexico, and made Aliyah to Israel in 2009. A graduate of Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem, she completed a BA degree in Business Administration with a specialty in Management of Service Organizations (Tourism). She has expertise in entrepreneurship, banking, customer service, information systems, network marketing, hotel management and hospitality services. She also participated in several courses of Jewish studies, tradition and life coaching. Contact Chaya Castillo
Esther Surikova is in charge of Shavei Israel’s work in Russia and the Ukraine. Prior to making Aliya in 2012 from Russia, she served as Director of the Office of the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt. Trained as an attorney, she worked as a lawyer in a Moscow-based private corporation, and subsequently as a public relations specialist at the ORT CIS, and a special project manager at the Ner LeElef organization. Surikova 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 the legal status of mass media in different countries. Contact Esther Surikova
Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum is the director of Machon Miriam, Shavei Israel’s Spanish-, Portuguese- and Italian-language Institute for Conversion and Return. She also serves as Director of the Amiel Institute’s Training Program for Rabbis’ Wives in the Diaspora. Birnbaum has taught in primary schools both in Israel and abroad, supervised kindergartens, taught at teacher-training seminars, and lectured widely to adults. She has a Bachelor’s degree in literature and a Master’s degree in Jewish Philosophy.
Avi Mizrahi is a retired senior Jewish Agency immigration and absorption official who worked on the organization’s behalf in countries such as Turkey and Ethiopia. Mizrahi directed “Operation Moses” and “Operation Solomon” for the Jewish Agency, which involved the large-scale immigration of Jews from Ethiopia. A social worker by profession, he was involved over the years in the immigration and absorption of Jews from Syria, Iran and elsewhere. After retiring from the Jewish Agency, he joined Shavei Israel as Project Director for Bnei Menashe Aliya and absorption. Contact Avi Mizrahi
Tzvi Khaute is Shavei Israel’s community coordinator for the Bnei Menashe in Israel and India. He previously served as Shavei Israel’s emissary to India, where he helped to set up the organization’s local headquarters and educational centers. Born and raised in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, Khaute made Aliya in 2000 along with his family. Prior to doing so, he taught economics at a high school for four years. He holds a BA degree in economics from the University of New Delhi and a BA degree in Jewish philosophy from the Herzog Institute in Alon Shvut, Israel. Contact Tzvi Khaute
Dr. Velvl Chernin is an internationally-recognized expert on the Subbotnik Jews, their history, culture and origins, and serves as Shavei Israel’s coordinator for the community. Born in Moscow in 1958, Chernin made Aliya in 1990. He has a Master’s degree in history from the University of Lomonosov, Moscow, and a Ph.D. in Jewish Literature from Bar-Ilan University. Chernin is the author of many scientific articles in the field of ethnography and sociology of Israel. He previously served as an emissary of the Jewish Agency in Russia, Belarus and the Baltic States and was also Vice President of the Russian Jewish Congress. Chernin teaches Yiddish language and literature at Ariel University.
Born and raised in Israel, Eran Barzilay 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 Henan University in Kaifeng, China. Since 2011, he has served as Shavei Israel’s coordinator for the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, China, and has overseen their immigration and absorption in Israel. Contact Eran Barzilay
Rachel Zomer (Kachlon) serves as Shavei Israel’s Office Manager in Jerusalem. A Netanya native, she currently resides in Alon Shevut with her husband. She is a graduate of Bina College of Naturopathy and Alternative Medicine Studies in Jerusalem. Previously, she worked as Director of Client Service Centers for a prestigious Israeli company and directed an English studies project for elementary and high school students. In her spare time, she has volunteered helping people with low vision, and at the Hematology department at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center. . Contact Rachel Zomer