Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Shira is founder and CEO of Sacred Spaces. A behavioral psychologist with a research background in creating large scale organizational change, and an attorney specialized in criminal law, Shira has spent years studying the intersection of psychology and law as related to sexual offending in faith communities. Bringing a uniquely Jewish lens, Shira partners with Jewish leaders to build healthy and accountable institutions, whose very culture and daily operations prevent opportunities for harassment and assault. In her role as CEO of Sacred Spaces, she has worked with Jewish communities across five continents to prevent, handle, and heal from institutional abuse. Her publications on abusive institutional practices have contributed to the end of solitary confinement for juveniles at Rikers Island, were immediate best seller on Amazon, and are regularly cited as seminal work in the Jewish abuse prevention field. Selected as an inaugural Wexner Field Fellow and named to The Jewish Week’s 2017 36 Under 36 for her pioneering work on abuse prevention, Shira sits on the board of numerous anti-abuse organizations including the Academy on Violence and Abuse, Male Survivor, and Kol V’Oz.
Chief Operating Officer
Prior to joining Sacred Spaces, Ilene was the Director of Planning and Allocations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh where she worked closely with local agencies to ensure that resources and programs were in place to meet human needs across the community’s spectrum. She was also responsible for the allocation of $22m each year to community priorities, both locally and overseas. Previously, Ilene worked for the New York Public Library, where she was a librarian and a development event planner. She has additional experience working for environmental non-profit organizations including the Nature Conservancy and League of Conservation Voters. Ilene graduated summa cum laude from the Pratt Institute where she received a master’s degree in information and library science. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in history and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Photo by Joshua Franzos
As Program Coordinator at Sacred Spaces, Danielle is a core member of our consulting team, advising Jewish organizations on best practices in preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault. She is coordinating the upcoming Safeguarding Children Campaign, a program that will provide thousands of Jewish youth-serving organizations with resources and guidance in protecting the children in their care. As the former Director of Johns Hopkins University’s Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), Danielle brings a wealth of experience in supporting survivors, combating rape culture, and guiding universities in preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus. At SARU, Danielle trained staff and student organizations, led campaigns for policy reform, worked a 24-hour crisis hotline, served as expert witness in university investigations, developed workshops for survivor healing and support, and partnered with government agencies to improve access to and quality of resources for victims. Previously, Danielle worked at the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and was a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Research Fellow at Hopkins.
As Project Coordinator of our Sacred Synagogues, Sacred Spaces program, Kerry works with synagogues in the Metropolitan Chicago and Greater Washington, D.C. areas to develop robust policies and training to prevent abuse and harassment. Prior to joining the Sacred Spaces team, Kerry served in the Avodah Service Corps and worked as the Immigration Advocate at HIAS, where she assisted international asylum-seekers in accessing social services and integrating with their new communities. In this position, she founded and oversaw HIAS’ first volunteer mentorship program. This included: managing 40+ volunteers, collaborating with experts to build Trauma-Informed Care trainings, and developing instructional manuals for future Immigration Advocates. Kerry has extensive experience in community organizing around social justice issues, as both a lay and professional leader, with organizations such as Refugee Support Services, International House, Faith in Place, and World Savvy. She has also served as an ESL tutor and assistant teacher, Spanish translator, and youth programmer. A Bonner Scholar, recipient of the Alberta Smith DeVane Religious Studies Award, and graduate of Davidson College, Kerry is pursuing a career in Social Work.
Before joining Sacred Spaces Alina completed her Masters in Higher Education Administration at the University of Pittsburgh. While completing her studies she participated in an Academic Advising Internship at the Swanson School of Engineering (UPitt). As an advisor Alina worked with first year engineering students who were on probation and ensured that they were back on the path of academic success. She also facilitated transfer students in joining the program at the Pittsburgh campus. As a member of her community Alina enjoys volunteering her time and is a part of two ongoing projects. The first is Kinder Kloset, which is a free store for people who may need the service in the community. The volunteers collect, sort, and hang donated clothing and Alina holds open hours where shoppers can “purchase” clothes. The other project is organizing and facilitating a local Lunch N Learn. A rabbi presents a lecture while participants enjoy a kosher lunch at CafeEighteen. Alina also holds a Masters Degree in Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She came to Sacred Spaces through an internship program at the Center for Women in Pittsburgh.
The mission of Sacred Spaces is no less than to bring every Jewish institution in line with best practice standards in preventing and responding to abuse. We cannot do this alone. Therefore, we have partnered Jewish social service agencies, already doing invaluable work in their communities, as well as the following policy specialists and trainers, to empower institutions with the education and tools necessary to protect their constituents.
Amy Oppenheimer Abitbol is a supervisor and senior consultant at Sacred Spaces, overseeing the Project Coordinator of the Sacred Synagogues, Sacred Spaces cohorts. She comes to Sacred Spaces with over a decade of experience in the management consulting and Jewish communal fields, including several years of Strategy & Operations work at Deloitte Consulting where she managed the firm’s national not-for-profit consulting initiative. Amy has produced several curriculums and Jewish educational projects, which she presented at 450+ synagogues, universities, JCCs, summer camps and Jewish Federations throughout North America and Israel.
Amy emigrated to Israel in 2014, where she served as the international director of Bat Melech: The International Women’s Shelter, and dedicated her expertise to building out the organization’s therapeutic programs, online presence and educational offerings on healthy relationships, identifying signs of abuse and combating abuse within the Jewish community. Most recently, she has been partnering with the Israel Foreign Ministry in lecturing and consulting on issues of family violence and gender equality through the MASHAV program as well as privately consulting for foreign governments. Amy is a certified yoga and meditation instructor with 10+ years experience as well as a certified Neurolinguistic Programming practitioner. She uses these therapeutic modalities in classes, workshops and retreats in North America and Israel as well as in shelters, hostels and women’s prisons around the world, and empowers individuals to take active roles in their healing process. Amy is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University (BA: Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Research Fellow) as well as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (MA: Dean’s List with Honors, Kaete Klausner Research Fellow), an ROI Fellow through the Schusterman Foundation and serves as the national president and chairwoman of the American Jewish League for Israel.
Yael Bendat-Appell is serving as an Educational Specialist for Sacred Spaces. In this role, she is focusing on their upcoming Safeguarding Children Campaign, a program that will provide Jewish youth-serving organizations with resources and guidance in protecting the children in their care. In addition to her work at Sacred Spaces, Yael is the Director of Camper Care at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. She assumed this position in September, 2015 after serving as the camp’s Assistant Director. Prior to her work at Camp Ramah, Yael taught in Jewish Day Schools for eight years with a focus on supporting students with diverse learning needs as well as supporting teachers in their work with diverse learners. Yael has served as a consultant to religious schools on the topic of special education, providing professional development and instructional training to their faculties. Yael graduated from the University of Toronto with majors in Jewish History and Physiological Psychology. As a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Yael completed her master’s degree in general and special education at Bank Street College of Education and furthered her Judaic Studies at Mechon Pardes in Jerusalem. She lives in Deerfield, IL with her husband, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, and their three children.
Robert has over twenty years of experience as a prosecutor and a judge in the areas of child abuse, child welfare, domestic violence, and sex crimes. He was the Chief of the Child Abuse Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where he investigated and prosecuted cases of physical and sexual abuse of children, including homicides, cybercrimes, and trafficking. He became a New York State Family Court Judge in 2014, presiding over cases where child protection authorities alleged abuse and neglect of children. Robert has worked closely with law enforcement, medical and mental health providers, child welfare and foster care organizations, and the courts to coordinate and improve child abuse prevention, holistic help and support for victims and their families, and the way courts and government deal with child abuse and neglect.
As part of his work, Robert helped found and oversee the Manhattan Child Advocacy Center, where children are seen holistically and by experts in the field in order to provide proper evaluation, treatment, support, and investigation. He has worked closely with schools, religious organizations, hospitals, and other companies to investigate allegations, develop educational and awareness programs for employees and communities, and create child abuse prevention protocols.
For many years, Robert has taught law school courses on child abuse, domestic violence, the judicial process, and criminal justice at the Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York. He has lectured and trained in these areas around the US, in Cuba, Turkey and Israel.
Hadar Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialized training working with children, adolescents, and adults who have experienced relational trauma, including physical and sexual abuse. Hadar conducted trauma-focused individual, family, and group psychotherapy with youth victims of abuse and neglect and their non-offending parents at Jacobi Medical Center’s Family Advocacy Center and has run groups for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and survivors of campus sexual assault. In addition to her work as a therapist, Hadar has conducted research on sexual violence and sex trafficking and has published articles and presented at conferences on this topic. Hadar earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center, where she lectured on The Psychology of Women, and completed her postdoctoral training at Columbia’s University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Hadar works in private practice in Riverdale and Manhattan and provides psychotherapy to individuals in a nursing home. She also consults with schools and universities on issues of sexual assault and abuse. Over the past year Hadar has been working with Sacred Spaces to develop model policies on preventing and responding to elder abuse in Jewish communal institutions.
Victor is the Director of Education and Research for the Zero Abuse Project. He is also the president of the Academy on Violence and Abuse and Founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. He previously served as executive director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse. Victor 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 is the recipient of numerous awards including the Pro Humanitate Award for Child Advocacy from the North American Child Resource Center for Child Welfare and the Heritage Service Award from the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence. Victor has published numerous peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, books and other writings pertaining to child abuse and neglect. Victor has consulted with public policy makers throughout the country and has testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on reforming child protection education. He holds degrees from Winona State University, Hamline University School of Law, and Wartburg Theological Seminary.