Meet Our Team

Staff

Shira Berkovits, Esq., PhD

Founder and Executive Director

As founder and executive director of Sacred Spaces, Shira has worked with Jewish communities across five continents to prevent, handle, and heal from institutional abuse. Her policy book, Preventing and Responding to Institutional Child Abuse, is due out in 2018 and will be published in both Christian and Jewish editions. Shira earned a J.D. from Cardozo School of Law, where she was a Monrad Paulson Fellow, and a Ph.D. in psychology from the Graduate Center, CUNY where she was an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow and an adjunct professor specializing in Organizational Behavior Management and researching systemic change of large organizations and infrastructures. She has completed postdoctoral psychology fellowships in child trauma and rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration. Prior to founding Sacred Spaces, Shira worked on issues of criminal justice reform, youth advocacy, and child protection, including 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 one of 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 U.S. 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.

Sari Steinberg

Operations & Communications Manager

Sari has always been active in the fight against institutional abuse in the Jewish community.  Her background includes experience in legal settings, political advocacy, awareness campaigns, conflict resolution, and educational institutions.  She has been involved in several communities as a lay leader and a professional, including her roles as a regional coordinator, communications specialist, and event planner for organizations such as CAMERA and the Kehillah Fund for Jewish Education.  A longstanding freelance writer, Sari has authored children’s books, co-produced educational videos, and edited Dr. Miriam Adahan’s From Victim to Victor: A Practical Guide for Recognizing Abuse and Discovering Our Spiritual Strengths.  She earned undergraduate degree Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and has engaged in advanced Jewish studies in the Scholars Program at Matan, Communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jewish Professional Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, and a variety of subjects in adult education programs at Solomon Schechter Day School and SAR Academy.  Sari enjoys interacting with individuals and the public, as well as working behind the scenes in a supportive role.

Talia Harcsztark

Program Coordinator

Talia studied at the Migdal Oz Beit Midrash for Women in Israel and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Barnard College and a Master’s in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. This fall, she will begin teaching Tanakh at Yeshivah of Flatbush High School. Talia has worked at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and interned at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Her interests in Jewish education and communal work led her to Sacred Spaces.

Danielle Pitkoff

Intern

Danielle is a senior at Johns Hopkins University where she is co-president of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU). Her work with SARU has included volunteering for the crisis intervention hotline, developing workshops and campaigns to fight rape culture on campus, and advocating for survivors of sexual assault. Danielle lectures on consent education and healthy relationships for Jewish institutions across North America. An alumna of SAR high school, Danielle is excited to once again be working with the Jewish communities she cares about so deeply.

Trainers and Policy Specialists

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.

 

Guila Benchimol

Guila Benchimol is a Wexner Graduate fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Sociological Criminology at the University of Guelph. She has a M.A in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy and conducts research at the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence. Guila is a sought-after lecturer in Jewish communities across North America, and has trained thousands of Jewish professionals and rabbinical students across the denominations on issues of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse and sexual assault. Her research, writing, and advocacy focus on sexual violence and crimes committed in religious communities, and her work has been published in numerous online media outlets and journals. Guila brings over 10 years of experience as a Jewish educator to her consulting work with Jewish institutions on their community safety and protection policies and to her interfaith work addressing some of the common social issues surrounding sexual violence. Guila’s dissertation research focuses on victims and survivors of sexual violence who have gone on to work as advocates against sexual violence.

Hadar Schwartz

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.

Dovid Nyer

Dovid Nyer, LCSW, received his BA in Liberal Arts with a specialization in Business Administration from Farleigh Dickenson University and his Master of Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. Previously, he studied in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel. Dovid has worked for Bikur Cholim Center for Applied Psychology as a Staff Therapist and currently has a private practice in Monsey, NY. He utilizes various modalities in his clinical practice and is currently pursuing training in Trauma Focused CBT. In addition to his private practice work with clients, Dovid has several years experience of activism in the Jewish community. In August 2015 he independently organized a Kol Koreh signed by over 100 charedi Rabbis urging for reporting suspicions of child abuse directly and promptly to the civil authorities. The following year, he organized in collaboration with RCA, OU and YU Leadership an abuse prevention policies proclamation signed by over 300 Orthodox Rabbis.

Alison Feigh

Alison Feigh, M.S. has been working in the sexual abuse prevention field for more than 15 years. She trains nationally on a variety of topics around abuse, abduction, and online exploitation. Ms. Feigh firmly believes that personal safety messages can be positive, empowering, and accessible. Ms. Feigh serves as the Program Manager of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a program of Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. She has worked with families of missing children and adults since 2000. Alison previously worked as a minister to youth and children at a metro area faith community for six years. She continues to be inspired and reenergized by working directly with children and teenagers at camps, retreats and theatre companies.

Victor Vieth

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.

Rabbi Diana S. Gerson

Rabbi Diana Gerson is currently the Associate Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis. Since 2005, she has been successfully advancing the NYBR’s leadership role in confronting family violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation, in and beyond New York.  A recognized authority in the field, Diana has reached across faith communities to provide family violence prevention education and training to over 4000 members of the clergy and community leaders, and 3000 teenagers and adults.

Diana has developed training programs for the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and has educated faith leaders at the New York City Family Justice Centers. She currently serves as the interfaith liaison between the New York Board of Rabbis and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, where she has worked collaboratively to develop an interfaith toolkit for the End Trafficking Initiative in addition to writing monthly newsletters and planning educational events for clergy and communal leaders, focused on child protection. In 2007, Diana became an authorized facilitator of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program.  In addition, she has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), where she was the chairperson of the Jewish Women’s Caucus.

Diana has spoken at conferences around the world on the topic of confronting violence against children, with a focus on the faith community’s role and responsibility in ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Most recently she was a speaker and moderator at the 5th Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) in Panama City, Panama, and was on the drafting committee for the Panama Declaration.