Meet Our Leaders

The Back from Birthright Israel network connects Birthright Israel trip alumni living in the Chicagoland area to each other socially, professionally, through Jewish life and culture, volunteerism, and philanthropy to create a transition into greater JUF involvement.  

This is a program sponsored and run solely by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.


2017-2018 Committee

Mitchell Cohen

Mitchell grew up in Indianapolis, IN and graduated from Indiana University with a Finance degree from the Kelley School of Business. He currently works for FactSet Research Systems as a DataFeed Specialist. He went on Birthright with Shorashim the summer of 2015. Mitchell has volunteered with Uptown Café as well as Feed My Starving Children. He is eager to continue with the Back from Birthright Israel Committee this year and is looking forward to building strong connections with the local community. Mitchell is a passionate fan of the Colts, Pacers & Indiana University basketball and also enjoys fitness, blogging & traveling.

Marissa Freeman

Marissa grew up in Kailua, Hawaii and is still new to Chicago! An alumna of Camp Ramah in California (13 years), Marissa studied Communications/Public Relations at the University of Washington (Go Dawgs). After a few years post-grad in Seattle, Marissa moved to Chicago in May 2016 and began working as the Chicago Hub Manager for OneTable, where she spends her days helping young Jews in Chicago find and host meaningful Friday night Shabbat dinner experiences. Since moving to the city, she has been on Birthright with Shorashim as a participant and a staff member. In between, Marissa became a Birthright Israel Fellow with the iCenter and continues to build a relationship with her home away from home. If she's not eating challah at Shabbat dinner tables around the city, she's taking a class at The Bar Method or playing with other people's puppies in her River North WeWork office.

Nicole Friedman

Nicole grew up in Riverwoods, IL and graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and minor in Sociology. Her study abroad program in Tel Aviv taught her the importance of giving back to your community and helped fuel her desire to get involved. Nicole is active member in YLD and is looking forward to serving on the Back from Birthright Committee to further her involvement. Nicole enjoys cooking, yoga, traveling, improv, and spending time with family and friends.

Sydney Glass

Sydney grew up in Highland Park, IL and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2016. Currently, Sydney is attending Loyola University in Chicago pursuing her masters in Social Work. During college, Sydney was on the board of Hillel and was active in the Jewish community on her campus. Sydney went on Birthright in August of 2016 with Shorashim. Since then, she has enjoyed participating in Back from Birthright and YLD events. She also enjoys volunteering in her free time. Sydney is excited to join the Back from Birthright Israel Committee and is looking forward to meeting new people and getting others excited about going on Birthright.

Ariel Halpern

Ariel grew up in Detroit, MI and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and Global Media Studies (mostly to watch movies). A recent resident of Chicago, he currently works for the Simon Wiesenthal Center as a Development Associate. He went on Birthright with Shorashim during the Summer of 2017 (BUS 103! Wooo!). Ariel loves JUF and has participated in Mensches in Motion, LEADS, and the JUF Softball League. He is eager to join the Back from Birthright Israel Committee because he loves connecting with other Jews who are passionate about the State of Israel. Ariel is not athletic but likes for people to think he is, so he goes running along Lake Shore Drive so that people see him.

Gideon Horberg

Gideon grew up in Skokie, Illinois and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and works as an engineer at NTN Bearing Corporation in Mt. Prospect. Gideon was involved at Hillel at the University of Illinois and planned two alternative break trips during which he developed his passion for volunteering and helping others. Gideon went on Shorashim in January 2016 and loved every minute of it. When he came back, he wanted to talk about his experiences with people who could relate and that is how he found Back from Birthright. Gideon is passionate about enabling participants to be able to do the same and to be able to explore future ways in which they can remain close with their buses and make connections with past participants. In his free time, Gideon watches the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and White Sox, works on his golf game, attends events around the Jewish community, and spends time with his family and friends.

Maya Ohcana

Maya, whose father is Israeli, has had an intimate connection to and passion about Israel for her entire life. While studying at Indiana University, Maya explored her creative side and earned a degree in Arts Management, minoring in Hebrew and Theatre. Now, she is combining her love for Israel and creativity through a marketing-focused role at Shorashim. On the weekends, you can find Maya attending a show, Instagramming everything in sight, and exploring everything that Chicago, and the surrounding areas, have to offer.

Asher Okin

Asher grew up in Highland Park, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014 with a degree in Chemistry. He then subsequently taught science in the charter school system for three years. Through YLD, Asher was able to participate and lead three times in LEADS. Asher likes biking, reading fantasy novels and teaching books, and participating in YLD sports, including kickball and softball.

Joel Pachefsky

Joel grew in Shorewood, Wisconsin -- a suburb of Milwaukee -- and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2013 with a BA in art history. After a two-and-a-half year 'experiment' in advertising, he is currently working for his family's real estate development firm. Joel has been active in Jewish communal life since a young age when he attended Jewish day and high school. At the University of Wisconsin, Joel was a member of the Board of Directors of Hillel and a member of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. After college, his community work shifted more towards Israel education and advocacy. For the past year, he has been a mentor for Write On for Israel -- a two-year, high school Israel education program helping students understand how to effectively advocate for Israel when they attend college. Joel recently returned from a Birthright Shorashim trip in June 2016 and is excited to meet other past participants that are passionate about Israel. During his free time, Joel enjoys hanging out with friends and family, discovering the rooftops of Chicago, rooting for the Wisconsin Badgers (basketball and football), and biking around the city.

Abby Shure

Abby is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in history. She currently works on the client services team at Kepler Group, an NYC-based digital marketing company. She participated in a Shorashim Birthright trip in January of 2016 and has been a part of the Jewish community in Chicago through the JUF, Windy City Minyan, LEADs, and JYP. She can't wait to get involved with the Back from Birthright Israel committee in her second year and is eager to meet more recent Birthright participants. Abby has played Ultimate Frisbee for eight years and spent the past three years helping coach the Northwestern Women's team. She loves watching the NBA, exploring Chicago on Divvy bikes, and making travel plans across the globe.

Esther Sussman

Esther grew up in Glenview, Illinois and went to University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied Food Science. She currently works as a scientist in the Cost Engineering group Kraft Heinz Company. Esther is a second year on the committee has previously participated in LEADS and attended multiple YLD events. She also has helped to deliver Maot Chitim. Esther went on Birthright with Shorashim in 2015. She is also a trustee for the Jewish Women's Foundation and sits on their Education Grants Committee. Esther wants to be involved with this committee so she can help keep those who came back from Birthright excited about their experiences and so that she can meet and interact with other individuals who have enjoyed Birthright. Esther also loves trying new recipes and traveling as much as possible, especially internationally.

Kyle Sussman

Kyle grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago (Glencoe) and graduated from Michigan State University with a marketing degree from the Broad College of Business. He currently works for Discover Financial Services as a Senior Marketing Associate. He went on Birthright with Shorashim in the winter of 2012. Kyle is active in the Chicago Jewish community, attending as many YLD events as possible, and volunteers with Junior Achievement. He looks forward to joining the Back from Birthright Israel Committee and ensuring the Birthright trip is just the beginning of its participant’s Jewish journey in the Chicagoland area. Kyle is a huge Cubs and Bears fan. He loves to read, visit historical sites and museums and play with his family’s dog, Clyde.


Lauren Silverman

Lauren grew up in Dix Hills, New York and went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She graduted with a degree in American Studies, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to work for Vanderbilt Hillel. After three years in Nashville, Lauren is so excited to join the JUF Community as the Young Adult Engagement Associate . She went on Birthright as a participant in 2012, and has staffed trips in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Lauren is excited to get to know Chicago, especially its food scene and is always open to all restaurant recommendations. 

Email Lauren at for more information if you are thinking about Birthright, or are just getting back from a Birthright trip!

Other JUF Events

Young Leadership Division Annual Meeting Thursday, June 28, 2018 6:00 PM More info
YLD/TIP Summer Phonothon Tuesday, July 24, 2018 5:30 PM More info
The Art of Developing Vista at Lakeshore East Wednesday, July 25, 2018 5:30 PM More info
Summer LEADS 2018 Thursday, July 26, 2018 7:00 PM More info
LEARN: Jewish Topics in Today's World Monday, August 13, 2018 6:30 PM More info
YLD/TIP High Holiday Phonothon Thursday, September 6, 2018 5:30 PM More info