Meet the Fellows: Volunteer Leadership

Our Jewish tradition upholds the principle that constructive disagreement for the sake of heaven (Mahloket L’Shem Shamayim), is not only imperative but the holy work needed to repair what can feel like irreconcilable differences that permeate within our Jewish communities. Guided by the belief that Jewish texts and their diverse interpretations can empower us to engage more constructively in disagreements today, Pardes is happy to introduce the inaugural Volunteer Leadership cohort of the Mahloket Matters Fellowship.

David Benger
David Benger is a Research Fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession (CLP) at Harvard Law School. He has a background in international law and counter-terrorism, and has worked at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (in Phnom Penh), the International Criminal Court (in The Hague), and the New York County District Attorney’s Office. His analysis has been published by The Boston Globe, NY Daily News, Lawfare, Opinio Juris, and The MirYam Institute.
Prior to joining CLP, David earned his JD from Harvard Law School, where he was a Senior Editor on the National Security Journal and an Executive Editor on the Journal of Law and Public Policy. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Russian Studies summa cum laude from Brandeis University and a Master of Arts in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University (Beijing) where he studied as a Schwarzman Scholar.


Valerie Habif
Valerie received a PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1986, and subsequently worked in Health Psychology until 2011. She has been active in many Jewish organizations including Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Atlanta Jewish Federation, American Jewish Committee, and National Council of Jewish Women. In 2012 she co-founded a grassroots group, Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, Atlanta (JDWS). JDWS has grown to 1600 Jewish women strong and focuses on local political issues as seen through a Jewish lens. These include women’s reproductive rights, gun violence protection, criminal justice reform, refugee and immigration rights, environmental protection, healthcare expansion, education and child protection, and resisting religious infringement laws.


Jason Caplan
Jason Caplan is the creator of “The Universal Language Room’ a music improvisational experience designed to create dialogue and understanding. He is a financial advisor and President of The Bridge Institute and Beit Abulafia. Jason lives in Memphis, TN with his wife Michal and two daughters, Ariella and Devora.




Merle Eisman Carrus

Merle Eisman Carrus is a Jewish educator and leader, who loves reading, continuing to learn, and sharing her learning with others through her philanthropic work. Merle graduated from Emerson College and worked for WGBH-TV in Boston, MA in a variety of production positions over a ten-year span. In 2014, she received a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College. Merle is the National President of the Brandeis National Committee, a fundraising organization for Brandeis University, and sits on the University Board of Trustees. In addition, Merle is the Publication Chair for The New Hampshire Jewish Reporter, the Jewish Federation newspaper for NH. She enjoys sharing her love for reading as the co-chair of Women’s League Reads for Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

Rick Gordon
Rick Gordon recently became Director of Jewish Communities of Vermont after almost 20 years serving as Founding Director of Compass School, an idealistic grade 7-12 school that has scored highest on a national survey on Respect, Safety, and School Climate. Rick co-authored Transforming School Climate and Learning: Beyond Bullying and Compliance. He was Co-Director of The Critical Skills-Education by Design Program at Antioch New England Graduate School and has worked extensively with schools and higher education on Service Learning (including editing the well-received Problem Based Service Learning Field Guide: Making a Difference in Higher Education). Rick has long experience in Experiential Education with Outward Bound and Interlocken, and has traveled extensively around the globe leading programs for youth. He has a PhD. in Social and Multicultural Foundations of Education from the University of Colorado-Boulder and did his undergraduate work at Stanford University.


Leslie Kirby
Leslie is the founder and CEO of the Kirith Institute for Social Justice, and a former professor at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on the role of positive emotions and experiences in providing a buffer against stress. Leslie has received awards from the National Institutes of Health and the Positive Psychology Network, as well as grants from the National Science Foundation. A passionate social justice advocate, she currently serves as the Chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee in Nashville TN, as well as the Treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Nashville, and volunteers with a number of other philanthropic organizations. Her husband is also a professor at Vanderbilt, and they have two children, Samara (20) and Eli (18).


Judge Bruce Manning
Judge Bruce Manning presides over cases subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Hennepin County, Minnesota, the state’s most populous district. He was given a 2021 Casey Family Foundations Excellence for Children award for his work developing a practice that embodies a collaborative approach to ICWA cases and supports the possibilities of a culturally competent, relationship-based model of child protection. He credits the years of work done before his time by tribes, lawyers, social workers, guardians and judges, whose commitments he tries to continue. Judge Manning also serves as the board president of Shir Tikvah, a Minneapolis synagogue, and of Trademark Theater, and is the immediate past president of the Heilicher Jewish Day School.


Zachary Schaffer
Zachary Schaffer has dedicated his career to empowering people to meaningfully communicate across differences. Currently, he serves as the Executive Director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents (CYJP) where he works to forge inclusive, competent, and multigenerational leadership in the Jewish non-profit sector. He is proud to serve as the President of Friends of Roots, a grassroots coexistence movement of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. He is also a facilitator with Resetting the Table and a certified workplace respect trainer with Ta’amod.



Suzanne Schreiber
Suzanne is a Past President of Tree of Life Congregation. She is a Contract Administrator at Encentiv Energy, Inc. and is a volunteer Head Coach for Girls On the Run, at Magee Women’s Hospital. She believes that being a leader requires effective listening skills, a positive attitude, and being a committed team player.




Sarah Snider
Sarah Snider is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing at Marian University of Indianapolis and a practicing creative writer. She recently completed a 2019-20 Dorot Fellowship in Israel and serves on the Michiana Jewish Film Festival committee in South Bend, Indiana. Sarah brings to the Mahloket Matters Fellowship her academic and communal background in ethical rhetoric and productive community discourse, along with a passion for textual analysis. She also has normal people hobbies, including ice hockey, the cultivation of house plants, and long treks in all weather except rain.