Meet the Team

Staff

Shira Berkovits, Esq., Ph.D.

President and Chief Executive Officer

Shira is President 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 culture and daily operations foster sacredness and reduce the risk of harassment, abuse, and other forms of interpersonal harm. 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. In addition to an Amazon bestseller, Shira has published pioneering pieces on abusive institutional practices, which have contributed to the end of solitary confinement for juveniles at Rikers Island and are regularly cited as foundational texts 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 the Academy on Violence and Abuse and is a member of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.

Marina Awerbuch

Aleinu Program Manager

Marina Awerbuch is the Aleinu Program Manager at Sacred Spaces. Marina has twelve years of experience working with children and parents in community-based settings. Prior to joining Sacred Spaces, Marina served as the Manager of Advocacy Center Operations at ChildHelp Inc., a national child abuse prevention organization. She has led continuing education seminars for professionals and families on evidence-based parent education, trauma-informed care, and child development and conducted community outreach, education, and collaborative program efforts to enhance awareness of child development and child abuse prevention. Marina specializes in building program infrastructure and data management to best support the growth of non-profit organizations with a focus on children’s wellbeing. Holding a Bachelors of Psychology from York University, Toronto ON and a Masters of Advanced Study in Infant Family Practice from Arizona State University, Marina is endorsed through the Infant Mental Health Coalition of Arizona.

Judith Belasco

Executive Vice President

Judith Belasco is the Executive Vice President at Sacred Spaces. She works to strategically scale and manage Sacred Spaces byaligning mission and vision with day-to-day operations. She manages and strengthens programs, operations, development, marketing, communications, and finance.  Prior to joining Sacred Spaces, she was the Executive Vice President at Hazon as the organization moved from a start-up phase to become a flourishing organization. Judith specifically oversaw and directed all of Hazon’s programs, operations, development, marketing, communications, and finance. During her twelve year tenure at Hazon, she was also the Acting CEO and Chief Program Officer. Judith holds a Bachelors degree in Urban Studies from Vassar College and a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Public Health from Columbia University. She is part of the Wexner Field Fellowship and she is currently a JPro WellAdvised Coach.

Rena Berger

Director of Finance and Administration

Rena Berger is the Director of Finance and Administration at Sacred Spaces. She is responsible for directing and managing finances, operations, human resources, and administration to support Sacred Spaces short- and long-term strategic goals. Rena helped found Torah Day School of Seattle, a non-profit elementary school in Seattle. As the TDS Director of Operations, she was responsible for overseeing the school’s budget, the execution of all grants and donor funds, and Human Resources functions. Prior to her career at TDS, Rena worked at the University of Washington and at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. Rena has an MBA in Non Profit Management from Touro University; an MEd in Policy Planning and Administration in Higher Education from Boston University, and a BSc in Biology, Psychology, and History from the University of Toronto. Rena plays an active role in the Seattle Jewish community, serving as the chair of the Seattle Mikvah Association, as mashgiach for Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath shul, and is an active member of the Seattle Chesed Committee.

Kaia Jackson

Programs & Training Associate

Kaia Jackson is a Programs & Training Associate with Sacred Spaces, providing support for trainings, case consultations, and program expansion. Prior to joining Sacred Spaces, Kaia served as a youth counselor, healing arts facilitator, and community educator in a wide variety of non-profit and community-based settings. Kaia draws upon years of experience working directly with children, young adults, and families navigating lived experiences of trauma, disability, and marginalization. A longtime member of the Collective Leadership Team of Survivor Theatre Project in Massachusetts, Kaia embodies a deep commitment to ending sexual violence from an intersectional lens through collaborative leadership, capacity building, and creative expression. Kaia also previously developed and facilitated workshops on disability justice/inclusion, community care and trauma-informed practices. Kaia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre, Cultural Studies, and Psychology from Hampshire College, and a Masters of Divinity degree in Trauma-Informed Spiritual Care and Writing from Earlham School of Religion.

Larisa Klebe

Curriculum and Resource Writer

Larisa is the Curriculum and Resource Writer at Sacred Spaces. She is part of a team responsible for researching and writing educational and instructional material for Sacred Spaces’ growing programs and resources. Previously, she served as Director of Nishmah—women and girls’ programming—at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center, and Associate Director of Programs and Education at the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA). While at JWA, she directed the Rising Voices Fellowship, a national thought leadership program for teens who are strong writers and passionate about Judaism, feminism, and social justice. Larisa has been an active writer for several years. She’s written regularly for Jewish Women, Amplified and eJewish Philanthropy, and has had pieces published in The Forward, Jewish Educational Leadership, Current Affairs, and The Boston Globe. Larisa holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and European Cultural Studies from Brandeis University, a Master’s degree in History and Museum Studies from Tufts University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from The Institute for Nonprofit Practice.

Lauren J. Litton, Esq.

Vice President of Programs

Lauren provides leadership and strategic guidance on the development and implementation of innovative and comprehensive programs, trainings, and resources. She manages a high performing team of Sacred Spaces staff and consultants in order to deliver effective case consultations and impactful programming. Guided by a commitment to human rights and social justice, Lauren has centered her work on promoting safety, well-being, and equity. She operated a consulting firm with specialized focus on domestic and sexual violence, civil and criminal justice reform, child welfare and juvenile justice, racial equity, and youth engagement. Working with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a multitude of national organizations, Lauren has tremendous experience managing large-scale, multi-system change initiatives. Previously, Lauren also worked as a program manager at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, managed a legal services program for survivors of domestic violence and their children, and served as a county prosecutor. She has been admitted to practice law in Ohio and Arizona, has authored numerous publications, and designed national conferences. Lauren received her undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and a juris doctorate from Case Western Reserve University.

Danielle Pitkoff

Program Manager

As Program Manager at Sacred Spaces, Danielle is a core member of our case consulting team, advising Jewish organizations on best practices in preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault. She is coordinating Aleinu: Safeguarding Our Children, an upcoming campaign that will provide thousands of Jewish youth-serving organizations with resources and guidance in protecting the children in their care. As the former co-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, developed workshops for survivor healing and support, and partnered with government agencies to improve access to and quality of resources for victims. Previously, Danielle interned at the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and was a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Research Fellow at Hopkins. Selected to be part of this year’s Jewish Week 36 Under 36 for her continuous work supporting survivors, she lectures on consent education and policy development for Jewish institutions across North America.

Photo by Aliza Abolafia

Consultants 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.

 

Hadar Schwartz, Ph.D.

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.

Gillian Steinberg, Ph.D.

Writing Consultant

Gillian Steinberg is a writing consultant for Sacred Spaces, focusing on clarity and readability, tone, and consistency of diction and style. Because Sacred Spaces’ work relies on careful, sensitive use of language, Gillian helps to ensure that all of Sacred Spaces’ written materials are accessible, precise, and clear. Gillian is also a full-time English teacher at SAR High School in Riverdale, the Bronx, and serves as a writing coach for adults working on academic or other professional writing. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Delaware and is the author of Philip Larkin and His Audiences (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) and Thomas Hardy: the Poems (Palgrave Macmillan 2013) as well as numerous articles and book chapters on literature and pedagogy.