Cultivating young Jewish leadership

In 2008, a small group of entrepreneurial educators in the UK recognised a crucial and concerning gap in Jewish education offerings for ambitious, driven students from leading universities together, with a void in young leadership.  In response, The Forum for Jewish Leadership (FJL) was founded to identify and develop the next generation of Jewish leaders, by exposing intellectually curious young Jews to deeply inspiring and thought-provoking Jewish role-models, values and experiences.  The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whilst serving as Chief Rabbi, joined this initiative as the Founding Honorary President. Under his vision and educational direction, FJL developed expertise at delivering sophisticated programs, deeply rooted in authentic Judaism, core Jewish values and appreciation of the state of Israel.  At the centre of this approach is the ‘FJL Internship program’. The first iteration was launched in Washington DC for British students. It combined substantive professional development alongside immersive programming exposing the participants to great Jewish leaders, profound Jewish wisdom, exciting Jewish experiences, as well relevant education in the political, business and Israel advocacy spheres. 

Since the founding of FJL, the initiative has been replicated all over the world. The ‘FJL Internship program’ is now also offered in New York, London and Tel Aviva. Participants join from across Europe, America, South America, Canada and Australia.  Highlights include exclusive meetings with President Herzog, Israeli Chief Rabbi Lau, Senator Joe Lieberman, Malcolm Hoenline, Ken Weinstein, Anne Neuberger, George Rohr, numerous Israeli Ambassadors, politicians, CEO’s, senior ranking army and security officials.

Upon return from a program, alumni are encouraged to join further opportunities to assist them in continuing their connection to the inspiring and empowering experience they had on the trip.  Events and activity in this space have evolved organically and broadly to include: mentoring,  networking, Friday night dinners, business speakers, volunteering, leadership initiatives, high level Jewish study and seminars, Jewish festival themed socials, political speakers, finance focus groups,  Israel advocacy training and more.

In addition to the outgrowth of programming from FJL alumni looking inwards, there have also been a number of projects looking outwards as alumni recognize their potential to make a difference in the community and beyond. Areas that have been addressed include, political and Israel advocacy, volunteering, women’s and Sefardi leadership, empowering young professionals to host Friday night dinners and professional networking. Central to all of this is a continued exposure to the FJL vision of demonstrating and inspiring an approach to life combining professional success integrated with a passionate engagement with Jewish life and Jewish values. This consistent theme has impacted our alumni to think beyond themselves and access their potential as Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Lord Sacks Z'l, Founding Honorary President of FJL speaking about Rabbi Naftali Schiff, Founder and Trustee of FJL, "Rabbi Naftali Schiff has always been seized with this idea that I see as fundamental: that the impact we have through our programmes should not be transactional, but transformational. It shouldn’t be aimed at keeping the train on track, it should be aimed at changing young people’s lives. Because that is how you really make a difference in the Jewish future."



Ben Thwaites

Ben read Law at University College London before working at Herbert Smith until 2012. He spent four years in higher Jewish learning in Israel, and has been involved in community and leadership projects such as UCL Jsoc President, Ner Yisrael Youth Director, Har Etzion British Alumni Programmes Co-ordinator and informal educator for Immanuel College and Hasmonean. In his spare time, Ben continues to practice law and is the General Counsel for a number of Jewish charities, as well as running a family investment fund.



Rabbi Dr. Effie Kleinberg serves as Senior Educator and Program Director at Forum for Jewish Leadership and affiliated Jewish Futures Trust organizations focused on developing the next generation of ambitious future Jewish leaders around the globe. Rabbi Kleinberg holds a Masters in Education, Semicha and a Doctorate in Educational Technology from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Kleinberg worked as a Jewish educator in North America before making aliyah. He currently resides with his family in Ra’anana, Israel.

UK Project Coordinator

Sandra Nagioff

Sandra grew up in Essex and has worked in the Jewish charity sector most of her working life.  She organised trips and events for the Community Security Trust and Norwood, working with Jewish community leaders such as Gerald Ronson, Richard Harrington MP and Richard Desmond.  Sandra currently lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and son and is crucial part of the FJL team bringing extensive experience in arranging and delivering FJL programmes

Jewish Futures Project Manager

Yocheved Back

Yocheved has organized countless Israel trips, and she is passionate about making sure participants have the greatest experience. Although much of Yocheved's work is done behind the scenes, she is accompanying the program experiences every step of the way. Originally from Cleveland, Yocheved now lives in beautiful Ramat Beit Shemesh with her husband and five chidlren.

Program Co-Directors

jen van Amerongen & Jacob shapiro

Jen and Jacob are Co-Program Directors for FJL. Before joining FJL,they worked together on OU-JLIC’s Ascend and Bnei Akiva’s gap-year program, Kivun. They live in Jerusalem with their daughter, Leeba. 

Jen is originally from New York. In addition to her work at FJL, Jen is learning in the Keren Ariel Yoetzet Halakha Training Program at Nishmat to become an advisor on issues of family purity in Jewish Law. Previously, she studied Talmud and Jewish Law at Migdal Oz and GPATS and is completing her Master’s in Bible at the Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies. Jen received her bachelor’s in Jewish Studies and Philosophy from Yeshiva University, where she was active in strengthening campus life. She has worked in informal education for many years in Bnei Akiva summer and year-long programming, as well as in formal education at SAR High School in New York as well as Migdal Oz and Midreshet Torah v’Avodah in Israel.

Jacob is originally from Montreal, Canada, and has a B.A from McGill University as well as a Teaching Certificate from the Open University in Israel. Before making Aliyah, Jacob worked as Youth Director at the TBDJ Synagogue in Montreal and was active in both the Montreal and McGill Jewish communities. Jacob has experience leading, launching, and supporting informal education and community building projects in Canada, Israel, South Africa, and the US. Upon moving to Israel, Jacob served in the IDF’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories and works as a management consultant at Monitor Deloitte.

Director of Israel Partnerships

Dr. Shaena Abramowitz

Shaena holds a master's degree in special education and a doctoral degree in educational administration. Her doctoral research analyed the pyscho-social impact of volunteering and service learning on young adults. She is invested in growing and strengthening FJL's partnership with Birthright Onward Israel. Shaena lives on a farm homestead on the Judean frontier with her husband, Ari, and their children, Dvash and Shilo.



Jonny grew up in London and attended JFS School. After graduating with a degree in languages from Cambridge University, he dedicated many years to Torah study in various Talmudic institutions in Jerusalem and London. Jonny is a proud FJL alumnus, having attended one of the first summer programmes to Washington DC while at university. Elisheva is also from London and attendedMenorah High School. Following this, she spent a year in seminary in Jerusalem, obtained a BSc in Mathematics and taught Jewish and general studies for nine years at MMK Primary School. They are delighted to open their home to students in their role as FJL senior educators