Elisheva Massel MA/MBA'14

Elisheva Massel MA/MBA'14
Director of Outreach
Hazon

"I feel, as a woman who has been given so many opportunities, a tremendous sense of responsibility to take a leadership role. I don't remember growing up and having female role models in positions of leadership. Maybe there were one or two in serious leadership positions in the context of the Johannesburg and Sydney Jewish communities, but not many. I feel a deep sense of responsibility as a woman to take a leadership position and lead responsibly and well, because women historically haven’t had these opportunities open to them."




Elisheva's
Short Bio

Elisheva received a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of New South Wales in 2010 and a Bachelor of Social Work, Transgenerational Transmission of Traum from Stockholm University in 2009, where she spent a year as an exchange student. In 2014 she received a Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Leadership and a Master of Business Administration as part of the dual degree program at Hornstein and The Heller School at Brandeis University.

While in Australia, Elisheva held several positions at Hineni Youth and Welfare; was the program leader and counselor for the Australian contingent of March of the Living; the program leader and coordinator at Australasian Union of Jewish Students; and the Education Assistant at the Sydney Jewish Museum. While a student at Hornstein, she worked at AJC Boston and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis. After graduating from Hornstein she worked as Assistant Director of Federation Relations at Birthright Israel Foundation. Currently Elisheva is the Director of Outreach at Hazon in New York City.

She was a Wexner Graduate Fellow and Davidson Scholar in the Class of 26.


Elisheva's Professional Network

Visit the websites of the Jewish organizations mentioned in Elisheva's profile:

Prof. Jonathan Sarna was Elisheva's advisor. 

Hornstein Alumni Profile


Elisheva Massel
on Aligning Personal Values
 with Organizational Mission

If you know Elisheva Massel you know she's a "glass half-full" type of person who is exceptionally determined and capable. So when she admits to being uncertain about anything, it comes as a surprise.

“I try to [be positive] and I have good days and bad days!” she says, laughing. “That’s the story I like to tell.”

The narrative she’s constructing is like the white painted line on the side of the road, keeping her on the path and going in the direction she’s determined to go. Her Jewish upbringing, family, and community illuminate her way. 

“Wherever I have traveled or lived, I sought out the Jewish community in one way or another. For me, the Jewish community has offered a sense of belonging in times and places where differences can be both exhilarating and overwhelming,” says Elisheva, who, after living on five continents, is no stranger to moving from place to place. 

“To say that moving is not stressful would be a lie. There’s always an element of stress involved with trying to re-establish oneself, for me at least. All those questions and concerns bubble up at the same time as the real logistical work of packing up and leaving.”

Elisheva is now happy to call New York City home. After she graduated from the Hornstein Program in 2014, she took the position of Assistant Director of Federation Relations at the Birthright Israel Foundation where she oversaw the Federation funding for Birthright Israel.

Earlier this year she moved from the Birthright Israel Foundation to Hazon as their Director of Outreach. Hazon’s mission resonates deeply for Elisheva.

“Hazon believes in creating a more sustainable Jewish community and a more sustainable world for us all. That’s something that’s easy to get behind!” says Elisheva. “It’s important to me to be able to internalize an organization’s mission at a local level in terms of who I am and then expand that into the context of the Jewish community and then again more broadly towards positive impact globally.”

Elisheva’s positive approach to life and career includes a healthy dose of flexibility, allowing for serendipity to play its part.

“There were a string of serendipitous events that led me along the path I’m on today and in a direction I hadn’t actually planned out,” she remembers. “Essentially, it was in the middle of my third year of college when I led the Australia March of the Living contingent which then led to an internship and then to a fulltime job at the Sydney Jewish Museum.”

“I totally loved [the work]. It was my entrance into the Jewish communal world as a professional. If I hadn’t participated in March of the Living, and if a few other pieces hadn’t come together, I wouldn’t have found myself working at the Jewish Museum.”

Elisheva credits her family and her Jewish community in South Africa and Australia for providing her with a strong foundation from which to launch into Jewish professional leadership. Not having seen too many women in leadership positions in the Jewish nonprofit sectors in South Africa and Australia, she imagines herself taking up those reins.

How she’s going to pay back the generosity of the Jewish communities in which she’s lived and worked and been educated, she’s not sure. Paying it forward might be the answer. It’s in the narrative she’s living.  



In Her Own Words:
  An Interview with Elisheva Massel

Q: Our life and career paths are sometimes straightforward, a beeline to our target, and other times a mess of mazes, full of false starts and dead ends. Can you describe your life and career path so far?

ELISHEVA: My career path has been far from a straight trajectory although looking back there were opportunities that inadvertently led to one another.

I grew up in a traditional ‘Commonwealth’ Jewish home, first in Johannesburg, South Africa, and then, in Sydney, Australia. I went to Jewish day school and participated in a youth movement. Living Jewishly was always entwined in how my family understood and navigated the broader society in which we lived.

Having volunteered extensively within the Jewish community for my entire student life, I never really considered or was interested in Jewish communal work. That part of my life was in the volunteer bucket. However, after a series of serendipitous events during college, I did an internship in the education department of the Sydney Jewish Museum which ultimately turned into a part-time and then a full-time job.

Q: What role did serendipity play?

ELISHEVA: There were a string of serendipitous events that led me along the path I’m on today and in a direction I hadn’t actually planned out.

Essentially, it was in the middle of my third year at college when I led the Australia March of the Living contingent. This led to an internship at the Sydney Jewish Museum and then ultimately a full-time job.

I totally loved it. It was my entrance into the Jewish communal world as a professional. If I hadn’t participated in March of the Living, and if a few other pieces hadn’t come together, I wouldn’t have found myself working at the Jewish Museum.  

I'm incredibly grateful for the Australian Jewish community for giving me this start. Together with my family, they grounded me with a strong foundation.

I learned so much about myself at the Museum where essentially I hit the trifecta, where my personal values aligned with the organization's values, and then aligned with the job that I was doing.

It was also there that I realized I could have a plan and it should be flexible enough so I could take advantage of opportunities that might arise but that might not appear to be exactly part of the plan.

After working at the Museum for three years, it became clear that (1) I could see a future for myself in the Jewish professional world; and (2) if I followed that path, I doubted there were significant advancement opportunities for me in Australia. It became clear to me then that the next logical step should be graduate school in America which is how I joined the Hornstein Program.

After a short time in the program, through discussions with professors, fellow students, and Jewish communal professionals, I realized that if I truly saw myself as a nonprofit professional, then I would need to gain development experience and the U.S. was the place to be for that. Here I could learn how to fundraise strategically, meaningfully, and ethically.

In my last semester of the Hornstein Program, I explored development positions, mostly in New York City, ultimately deciding to join the Birthright Israel Foundation overseeing all the Federation funding for Birthright Israel.

After almost two years in this position, the opportunity arose for me to join the team at Hazon as their Director of Outreach. While I had anticipated my next move to be within the fundraising/development world, this position allows me to further build skills in my professional toolkit, including how to develop strategic partnerships, how to plan strategically, how to be an effective supervisor, and what it means to sit on an organization’s leadership team.

Additionally, Hazon is an organization that tackles global issues on a local level, believing intrinsically in sustainable Jewish communities and a sustainable world for us all.

Hazon's leadership, vision, and mission resonates to my core and thus my mantra of “have a plan and be flexible and open to opportunities” has rung true yet again. In March 2016, I joined the team at Hazon.  

Q: It seems like you have a good sense of self awareness and that you set goals and strategies for yourself based on this self-awareness and understanding of yourself. Do you think this is true?

ELISHEVA: I’m trying. I think some days I feel it more than others. For me it’s about developing a strategy with flexibility, to know when something great presents itself and to be able to distinguish when something might not be part of the initial strategy but would be an important opportunity which I could accept.

Q: How do you examine a new opportunity? Do you have a process? 

ELISHEVA: There are a number of factors but ultimately I’ll examine the opportunity in terms of what it might mean for me professionally. The two key pieces I consider are whether it’s a move forward or backward. It might be okay to move backward a little if it’s within a particularly spectacular organization. So (1) Is this a move in the right direction? (2) Are the people great? Are there people at this organization who might serve as mentors or are outstanding and inspiring, that I could learn from? (3) Does the mission of the organization align with my own values and mission?

I have found that, for me, the mission really matters. To figure this out I need to understand my own values and the issues I care about most. I need to know what excites me. Once I know these I can find a good match.

Q: You just started at Hazon as Director of Outreach. What does your work entail? What gets you excited about your work?

ELISHEVA: I work with an amazing team and with leadership who has a strong vision and mission and strategy for how we’re going to get where we want to go. Hazon believes we can create a more sustainable Jewish community and a more sustainable world for us all. That’s something so easy to get behind! Who doesn't think we should be more conscious about where the food we eat comes from or what it means to really consider the physical mark we’re leaving on the world? Are we doing damage to the world we live in? If we are, what are the implications for leaving a damaged world to our children and our grandchildren?

It’s so important to me to be able to internalize that at a local level in terms of who I am and then expand that into the context of the Jewish community and then again more broadly towards positive impact globally. This kind of “think global act local” philosophy resonates deeply for me. What we do and how we do it matters in the context of the Jewish community and the world. We don't exist in isolation. 

As for my role, essentially it consists of three components. First, there’s creating and building Hazon’s strategic partnerships and most importantly insuring that these partnerships are mutually beneficial. We can’t be one-sided if we want to work effectively.

Hazon merged with Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center about a year and a half ago and so another component of my work is insuring that organizations know about the Center. Here at Hazon we believe fundamentally in transformative experiences and whether that means taking your staff away or bringing a group of students to the campsite, we believe that the moment you’re removed from the routine of everyday life, opportunities arise for significant transformation.

The third component of my work is building Hazon’s visibility and presence in the New York region, in efforts that often funnels through our strategic partnerships and through the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center.

Q: Can you explain the link between Hazon’s sustainability mission and the world?

ELISHEVA: Sustainability is precisely the link. The more each person and each community adopts lifestyles that are sustainable, the better our world is.

Q: You have moved around a lot. Can you recount a time when you weren’t very confident about a decision to move or take on a new venture?

ELISHEVA: I think there are always situations or moments when I’ve doubted the decisions I’ve made, probably like a lot of people and probably a very human response. In those circumstances, it’s about how to take a situation and pivot it towards a different direction.

Q: You seem like you have a very positive attitude about life.

ELISHEVA: I try to but I have good days and bad days! (Laughs.) That’s the story I like to tell! (More laughter.)

Q: Where does your narrative place you in ten years’ time?

ELISHEVA: I see myself running a Jewish organization. Right now what I’m doing is building out my skill set so that I am a well-rounded professional and I can take on a very senior executive if not a chief executive officer role. How that will look, I don’t know, but it will have to be with an organization whose mission deeply resonates with who I am.

I also feel, as a woman who has been given so many opportunities, a tremendous sense of responsibility to take a leadership role. I don't remember growing up and having female role models in positions of leadership. Maybe there were one or two in serious leadership positions in the context of the Johannesburg and Sydney Jewish communities, but not many. I feel a deep sense of responsibility as a woman to take a leadership position and lead responsibly and well, because women historically haven’t had these opportunities open to them. 

Q: Who has influenced your Jewish identity most profoundly?

ELISHEVA: Definitely my family versus one person in particular. For as long as I can remember, Jewish life has been and continues to be deeply integrated into my family in terms of who we are, and how we live, mourn, and celebrate. It's the glue that holds us together. It was values that were framed Jewishly that defined my childhood, and were epitomized by my grandparents, my parents, and my extended family. 

Q: How have your work experience and travels informed your Jewish identity?

ELISHEVA: For the most part, wherever I traveled or lived (having lived on five continents), I sought out the Jewish community in one way or another. For me, the Jewish community has offered me a sense of belonging in times/places where differences can be both exhilarating and overwhelming.

My Jewish identity serves as a North Star, firmly rooting me to that which is familiar in an ever-changing world.

Q: Do you enjoy traveling and living in new places?

ELISHEVA:  I do enjoy traveling and living in new places. I have no plans to move out of New York right now though. I'm incredibly happy just living in New York. Coming here was a very positive move for me.

Q: Where all have you lived?

ELISHEVA: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. When I was fourteen we emigrated to Sydney, Australia. Before college, I went to Israel for a gap year with my youth movement and when that was over I returned to Sydney for college. I went to the University of New South Wales. During that time I took part in their exchange program and went to live in Sweden for just under a year. When that was done I moved back to Sydney to complete my degree. I worked at the Sydney Jewish Museum for about three years and then moved to Boston for the Hornstein Program, and then to New York City when I took my first job at Birthright Israel Foundation.

Q: Was all that moving stressful for you?

ELISHEVA: To say that moving is not stressful would be a lie. There’s always an element of stress involved with trying to re-establish oneself, for me at least. All those questions and concerns bubble up at the same time as the real logistical work of packing up and going or leaving.

I feel lucky to live in a day and age when these sorts of moves are far easier than they’ve ever been. Smartphones and Facetime mean I can pick up the phone and call whomever I want pretty much whenever I want with only the time zone to remember. Everyone I need is at my fingertips. I can get on a plane and go when I need to. I’m lucky to have that flexibility and the privilege to be able to do that.

Did I know for certain when I moved to America that it would be a phenomenal move, that everything would turn out well, and that I'd love living here? I had no idea, but I had to get on the plane to figure it out. If it would have worked out disastrously, I would have got on the plane and gone back, right? I knew I could go back home and I was okay with that.

Technology today gives us so much freedom. When my grandparents moved from Lithuania to South Africa at the turn of the last century they pretty much knew they were stuck with their decision. Maybe some people went backwards and forwards but most people then knew they were picking up their life and starting again, for better or for worse. Of course I didn’t have that kind of pressure to contend with. Even to this day, I know that if something doesn't work out, the opportunity to return home to Australia is there and it's relatively simple. It’s not like I can't go back ever again.

That said, I have no immediate plans of returning to Australia. I am incredibly grateful for the confidence placed in me by the American Jewish community, especially from the Hornstein Program and the Wexner Foundation, my employers, and Nigel Savage at Hazon whom I first met as our commencement speaker when I graduated from Hornstein.

Hornstein faculty and Wexner staff have been so incredibly generous! And I mean generous with—finances aside, which by itself is hugely significant—their time and spirit and their investment in me and my professional growth. I never would have had these opportunities had I not come to America. I’m incredibly grateful for that. It’s terrifying in a way, I can’t mess this up. So many people have invested in my professional development. Sure, faculty have to teach because that’s their job, but there’s so much more that people gave so freely, the mentoring and support and confidence and consideration… How can I ever pay that back? Maybe paying it back happens only by paying forward.

Q: Do you have any sage advice for the Class of 2016 who just graduated?

ELISHEVA: I feel totally unqualified to give anyone or any class advice so I offer up the mantra of “have a plan, and be open to diverging from it.” This mantra, and an incredibly supportive and loving family, have opened doors to opportunities I never imagined. It's provided me with good guidance. Perhaps it can be helpful for someone else too.




This interview with Elisheva was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, July 2016. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.