Founded in 2017, the Jewish Center for Justice is a distinguished social justice, education, and leadership development platform that meets each individual where they are in their journey to inspire change.
JCJ’s mission is to empower current and future leaders to build a more compassionate and just society.
Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds
Founding Executive Director
Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is the founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice, where he envisioned the need for a Jewish justice organization to reach the unaffiliated and expand the breadth and scope of the wider Jewish community. Previously, he was the West Coast Legislative Director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Simonds also serves as Rabbi of the Synagogue for the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and for the past ten years has been the Associate Rabbi at University Synagogue in Los Angeles.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Joel Thal Simonds
Rabbi Leah Sternberg
Ellie Caple is an Account Director at Sunshine Sachs. Prior to joining the firm, Ellie served as senior staff on the Kamala Harris presidential campaign and was the youngest member of the senior team. Before that, she worked as Senior Associate for SCRB Strategies, running state and federal campaigns in California and consulting for private sector clients. She has also worked for Kamala Harris’ 2016 Senate race, FWD.us, the Center for American Progress, and for major campaigns and elected officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Ellie graduated with honors from Tufts University with a B.A. in Peace and Justice Studies, with a concentration in Media and Public Policy.
Jennifer Haarmann is a Founding Board Member of the Jewish Center for Justice, where she shares the vision of community and faith-based advocacy that speaks to the needs of all people, in the Jewish spirit of tikkun olam. Jennifer serves as a Board Member of University Synagogue in Los Angeles, as well as a volunteer with the Shalom Institute in Malibu. She also continues her work in accounting and client development in private practice with a firm in Marina Del Rey.
Abbi Hertz is a co-founder of the Jewish Center for Justice and previously directed its communications and outreach programs. Prior to that, Abbi consulted with Jewish organizations including Sharsheret and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she developed long-term strategies on social justice issues. For more than a decade, she directed the Los Angeles office for the social marketing agency O’Rorke Inc. and was accountable for developing environmental outreach campaigns to educate and drive behavior change for clients including Los Angeles County, the City and County of San Francisco, and more.
Lisa Laffer is a board member of the Jewish Center for Justice and a founding member of the JCJ-Legal Action Network. She has a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. Lisa is a real estate attorney and currently the general counsel of Regent Properties in Brentwood. She has worked in a pro bono capacity for various organizations throughout Los Angeles including the Los Angeles Conservation Corps as their outside general counsel, the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles , and various charter schools throughout the region.
Heather Lazarus is a branding, marketing and non-profit consultant currently working with environmentally focused non-profit organizations. Prior to Heather’s consultancy practice, she worked as a senior executive at Mattel Inc. for 15 years in Global Brand Management and Marketing Strategy including running the Mattel Children’s Foundation. Heather lives in Los Angeles, with her husband Brian and her two daughters.
Teddy Levitt is the Manager of the Client Development team at Altruist, a fintech startup in Venice. Before joining Altruist, his prior roles included VP, Financial Advisor at Bernstein Private Wealth Management, Relationship Manager at Causeway Capital Management, and Financial Communications Analyst for The Walt Disney Company. Teddy earned a B.A. in international relations from Stanford University and an MBA in finance from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a former president of the Anderson Student Asset Management Fund, a quantitative investment group managing approximately $1 million of the university’s endowment assets. Teddy is also a four-time national fencing champion.
Nick Melvoin serves as Vice President of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Prior to his election, Nick worked as a teacher, public interest attorney, nonprofit director, and was an active board member for a number of community and Jewish organizations. Nick has also worked in the Obama White House and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Nick’s work is focused on increasing parent and community engagement, transparency and accountability; directing more resources to schools; protecting our most vulnerable students; and bringing a new spirit of partnership and collaboration to LA’s public schools. Nick is a graduate of Harvard College, NYU School of Law (Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar), and Loyola Marymount University’s School of Education.
Mike Montgomery is the President of The Montlake Group, a public affairs and government relations consulting firm. He is the former National Finance Director for former San Francisco mayor (now California Governor) Gavin Newsom. Mike is a frequently published voice in print and digital outlets and is a Forbes contributor. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Liana and daughter Ella.
Lesa Rosentreter is the Vice President of Legal Affairs at Lionsgate Entertainment, where she serves as production counsel on a variety of television shows. In addition, Lesa is the co-founder of bryck&mortar, a permanent pop-up shop that features new brands every month. She has a B.A. from UCLA and a J.D./M.B.A. from Loyola Marymount University and lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Michelle Sampson is a Founding Board Member of the Jewish Center for Justice. Michelle has a background in strategic marketing, branding and communications. She has worked with numerous Fortune 500 brands in addition to consulting with charities such as the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, Birthright Israel, NATAN and Princess Grace Foundation. Michelle is known for taking consumer marketing approaches and applying them to philanthropic endeavors to create innovation and effect change. In addition to her work with JCJ, Michelle is very active with the Los Angeles Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.
Rabbi Leah Sternberg is the Assistant Rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. Rabbi Leah received her Rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles where she also earned a Master’s Degree as well as a certificate in Jewish Nonprofit Management from the Zelikow School at HUC. Prior to joining the Board, Rabbi Leah served as the Manager for Jewish Engagement and Advocacy for JCJ where she oversaw our cohort programs as well as our legislative agenda. She holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan.
On August 27, 2022, the Jewish Center for Justice community suffered a devastating loss with the sudden and untimely death of Board Member Micah Bycel (z”l).
The JCJ community has created a special fund to honor Micah’s memory and secure his legacy. Micah was a kind and compassionate soul. He saw a broken world and was determined to make it better for his kids and the next generation. In his honor, The Micah D. Bycel Fund for Legislative Fellows will help shape the next generation of Jewish justice activists.
In addition to the Fund, we have renamed the program, The Micah D. Bycel Legislative Fellowship. All future fellows will learn of Micah’s memory and advocate for justice in his honor.