Cliff Nerwen, M.D., Board Chair

Cliff Nerwen MD, an academic general pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, has been passionately concerned about the health and safety of children for more than twenty-five years.  A graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, with a BS degree from Columbia University and a BA degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he has long been concerned and interested in ensuring that children are safe – in Queens and Nassau where he works, at home in the Riverdale community and at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires where he is the medical director.  As the chairperson of the Child Protection Committee at his synagogue, the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, he has directed the implementation of child protection policies and facilitated conversations and the education of his community about this important topic. He is avidly interested in transferring the lessons learned in Riverdale to the broader Jewish community – to other synagogues and Jewish institutions including camps and schools – preventing the abuse of individuals of all ages, providing education and opportunities for conversation, and making our communities safe for all.

Judy Klitsner, Founding Board Chair

Judy Klitsner is a senior educator at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where she has taught and trained a generation of students, many of whom now serve as teachers and heads of schools throughout the US, Israel and Europe. Judy lectures internationally at synagogues, campuses, rabbinical training programs and adult education programs that span the denominational spectrum, and she is a regular visiting lecturer at the London School of Jewish Studies. In addition to her numerous publications on biblical topics, she is the author of the book Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other (Jewish Publication Society, paperback by Koren Publishers), which received a National Jewish book award and which has recently been translated into Hebrew. For decades, Judy has advocated on behalf of victims of abuse and has published numerous articles promoting a preventative, rather than reactive, approach to the problem. She was among the founders of the Takannah Forum, a respected anti-abuse organization in Israel. Judy raises awareness about the topic with frequent lectures at venues throughout the world.

Michelle Friedman, M.D.

Michelle is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice, the chair of Pastoral Counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabinnical School (YCT) and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. A graduate of Barnard College, NYU School of Medicine and The Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, Dr. Friedman has been involved in bridging religious life and mental health issues for over 30 years. She has spearheaded educational initiatives on a variety of topics, including religious identity, postpartum depression, and sexuality. In 1998 Dr. Friedman was invited to develop a pastoral counseling curriculum for YCT in order to prepare Modern Orthodox rabbis to meet the challenges of contemporary community leadership. Her recent book, The Art of Jewish Pastoral Counseling: A Guide for All Faiths, co-authored with Dr. Rachel Yehuda and published by Routledge, comes out of her teaching experience and ongoing contact with graduates of YCT and other rabbinical seminaries. Michelle lectures and consults for Jewish communities across the US who are grappling with boundary violations or abuses of power.

Victor Vieth, J.D.

Victor is founder and director of Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. In this role, he has trained thousands of child protection professionals from all 50 states, two U.S. Territories and 17 countries on numerous topics pertaining to child abuse investigation, prosecution, and prevention. He has been instrumental in implementing 22 state and international forensic interview training programs and dozens of undergraduate and graduate programs on child maltreatment. Victor gained national recognition for his work addressing child abuse in small communities as a prosecutor in rural Minnesota. He has been named to the President’s Honor Roll of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. Victor is regularly asked to consult with legislators around the country regarding policy and reform and has testified in front of the United States Senate. Numerous foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Colombia, have sought his expertise to guide them as they create and implement groundbreaking child protection policies.

Sally Mendelsohn

As a Certified Nurse Midwife, Sally has provided maternity care to women in both home and hospital settings, and comprehensive health care to women, children and families in the US and abroad. She has been an Adjunct Professor of Midwifery at New York University’s Graduate Program in Midwifery, an advisor to female EMTs at a start-up women’s ambulance corps, “Ezras Nashim” in Boro Park, Brooklyn, and has worked as consultant and educator for Traditional Birth Attendants in Rwanda. Currently she studies and teaches Talmud, Bible, and Halakha with young adults in a variety of settings. She has founded several community prayer and study initiatives, including an annual Shavuot retreat, and is an active member of her local Hevra Kadisha since 1990. Sally earned her BA in Judaic Studies Magna Cum Laude from Brandeis University in 1977 and an MS in Midwifery from Georgetown University in 1982. Her combined interests and experience in Jewish education and health make her an invaluable resource to Sacred Spaces.

Shira Berkovits, Esq., PhD

Shira is founder and CEO of Sacred Spaces. In this role she has worked with Jewish communities across five continents to prevent, handle, and heal from institutional abuse. Her book, The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, was released this past summer and was an immediate Amazon bestseller. Shira holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she was an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow and an adjunct professor, and a J.D. from Cardozo School of Law, where she was a Monrad Paulson Fellow. She has completed postdoctoral psychology fellowships in child trauma and rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration. Prior to founding Sacred Spaces, Shira worked on criminal justice reform, youth advocacy, and child protection at such nationally acclaimed organizations as the Innocence Project, Center for Court Innovation, and Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. In her work, she has represented battered women and adolescent defendants, mediated legal disputes, and co-authored Rethinking Rikers for the NYC Board of Corrections, which contributed to the end of juvenile solitary confinement at Rikers. Named to The Jewish Week’s 2017 36 Under 36, Shira has been involved in Jewish communal work for over a decade, serving as youth director at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, consulting for synagogue youth departments across the US through the Orthodox Union, participating in the Paideia Paradigm program and AJWS Global Justice Fellowship, and most recently joining Wexner’s inaugural cohort of Field Fellows. She is a proud board member of the Academy on Violence and Abuse, Kol V’ Oz, and Male Survivor.