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Meet MEJDI

Founders & Management Team

Scott Cooper, Co-Owner & CEO

Scott CA successful business owner, social entrepreneur, and business strategist, Scott Cooper spent a decade in the private sector, most recently as a banker and financial representative for JP Morgan Chase, before joining George Mason University’s (GMU) Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution as its co-executive director in 2009. Under Scott’s direction, the center’s budget grew 100-fold, and operated programs in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. The MEJDI co-founder and CEO established GMU’s first business and conflict resolution program, and spearheaded an innovative study abroad program that takes students throughout the Middle East and beyond. Passionate about travel, peace building, and socially and environmentally responsible tourism, Scott utilizes his expertise in wealth preservation and growth to help social investors and peace builders employ innovative business models to facilitate positive change.  As MEJDI’s ‘Co-CEO’, Scott focuses on strategy, operations, and company culture.  He previously worked at the United States Institute of Peace on a project focused on evaluating peace-building programs in conflict zones, and has advised numerous NGOs on sustainable models for organizational growth. Scott holds a degree in political science from Arizona State University and a Master of Science degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University.  Scott prides himself on not taking life too seriously, and loves watching stand-up comedy, playing ice hockey, and engaging in ‘intense’ ping pong matches at the MEJDI office.

 

Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Owner & CEO

44196030(1)Aziz Abu Sarah is an entrepreneur, speaker, peace builder and author. He is a National Geographic Explorer and a TED Fellow. In 2009, Aziz co-founded MEJDI Tours, a cultural exploration vehicle for an ever-changing travel market. He is a seasoned tourism professional with over a decade of experience in the industry. In 2014, he gave a TED Talk about his vision for redefining tourism. You can view the talk here.  Aziz has spoken at countless of international organizations and universities, including The United Nations, Nexus, TED, BMW, European Parliament, Georgetown, Yale and Harvard. He has published articles in The New York Times, National Geographic, TED, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and others and regularly analysis for CNN, Fox, and Aljazeera among others. Aziz is the recipient of the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East from the Institute of International Education, the European Parliament’s Silver Rose Award, the Eisenhower Medallion, and the Eliav-Sartawi Award for his Middle Eastern Journalism. He was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Strategic Centre in Jordan for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. He won the Intercultural innovation award from the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW Group. He was also recognized by UNSG Ban Ki Moon for his work in peace building. You can view the talk here.

 

Reverend Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Chief Advisor for Christian Engagement

Mae Cannon PhotoRev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Cannon formerly served as the senior director of Advocacy and Outreach for World Vision US on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.; as consultant to the Middle East for child advocacy issues for Compassion International; as the executive pastor of Hillside Covenant Church located in Walnut Creek, California; and as director of extension ministries at Willow Creek Community Church. She is the author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP, 2009), which won the 2010 Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year Award in the category of justice. She is also the author of Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP 2013) and co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Zondervan, 2014). Cannon hols an MDiv from North Park Theological Seminary, an MBA from North Park University’s School of Business an Nonprofit Management, and an MA in bioethics from Trinity International University. She received her doctorate in American History with the minor in Middle Eastern studies at the University of California (Davis) focusing on the history of the American Protestant church in Israel and Palestine.

Cannon began her work in the Middle East in 2009. She left the Holy Land with a strong conviction that American Christians have a significant role to play in being peacemakers contributing to the end of the ongoing violence in the region. In 2010-2011, Mae lived in Jerusalem and worked extensively in areas of reconciliation and justice in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt in an attempt to bridge the gap between American Christians and the Christian community in the Middle East. Her several publications about the Conflict including Mischief Making in Palestine: American Protestant Involvement in the Holy Land from 1917 to Today and several other papers and articles have been presented at the American Academy of Religion regional and other annual conferences. Her work has been highlighted by the Chicago Tribune, Christianity Today, Leadership Magazine, The Christian Post, Jerusalem Post, EU Parliament Magazine, and Huffington Post. In 2014-2015, she also served on the State Department working group focusing on the role religion can play in a global conflict mitigation.

 

Operational Staff

Kelly Predmesky, Operations Manager, USA

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Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, with stints in Tampa, FL and New York City, and now based in sunny West Palm Beach, Florida, Kelly has over 11 years of experience working in travel.  Her midwest roots, southern hospitality, and a little bit of New York grit help her make the most of any travel experience.  After earning a degree in Art History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies from the University of South Florida, Kelly launched her career in travel as a travel agent, and she has never looked back.  Besides getting to travel to amazing places like Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Croatia, the Galapagos Islands, and Cambodia, her two favorite things about working in travel are getting to help people plan trips that they have been dreaming about taking their whole lives, and getting to meet so many interesting people who have incredible experiences to share.

Danielle DiVerde, Customer Care Specialist, USA

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Danielle has been working in peace education since she graduated with a BA in International Studies and Spanish.  She has facilitated various programs and workshops in emotional healing and development, bully prevention, and diversity awareness as well as working as a Trip Leader for adventure trips for teenagers throughout Europe.  Throughout her educational career, she involved herself in studying and experiencing peace building efforts which led to her educational participation in MEJDI’s tour in Turkey.  She later worked as a customer service specialist intern on the National Geographic Holy Land tour. These experiences have inspired her to continue to work in this dynamic and important field while living in and traveling to various countries.  Having been on the receiving end of this company’s service, she is excited to join the MEJDI team to make future trips equally unforgettable.  In her spare time, Danielle enjoys hiking, biking, photography, learning about sustainable living practices, and serves as a disaster services volunteer for the American Red Cross.

 

Hadas Karmon, Jerusalem Coordinator

Hadas photoHadas was born in Haifa, Israel and grew up in Moshav Gan- Hashomron. She is a licensed tour guide and has been guiding children, families and adults for the last 10 years.  Hadas guided field trips and environmental education programs as part of her army service and continues doing that to this day because she sees it as an educational mission.  She has a B.A. from Ben-Gurion University in Geography, Environmental Development and History of the State of Israel. She was a student at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and is a current M.A student in Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

Hadas believes that traveling in Israel can be a catalyst for personal and group growth in questioning and defining an identity. Tours are a unique space for communicating, listening, and understanding the conflict’s issues on the ground. Hadas works in tourism because she believes that it is an effective tool for peace resolution and environmental education. “He who goes with his eyes open will see at least a hundred fabulous things a day.”  L. Goldberg

Rishona Fine, Jerusalem Coordinator

rishonaRishona Fine was born and raised in Washington, D.C, but always dreamed of seeing the day that she would live in the Land of the Bible, where she naturally felt most rooted.  At the ripe old age of 18 she made that dream come true, and subsequently found herself continually reevaluating, reassessing and recreating her dreams within the challenging reality that is Israel.   Having studied a B.A. in Archaeology and Land of Israel Studies, Sociology & Anthropology at Bar Ilan University, her awareness and appreciation for the richness and complexity of her renewed home was deepened.  Following her graduation, she enjoyed a brief career as a Biblical Archaeologist and gradually gravitated to the tourism industry, working for over a decade as a licensed tour guide.  Tourism, afterall, was a spectacular vehicle for such a journey, to rediscover the beauty of the Land and the love for it and its peoples anew, through the eyes of tourists, themselves visiting for the first time and questioning, by creating an ever-evolving stage on which alternate realities could be presented, played out and explored, both from within and without, to open doors, or at least create a window, within the walls and between the souls.

Guides & Facilitators 

Mahmoud Jamil Abu-Eid, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Pictures from my i Phone 370Mahmoud Jamil Abu-Eid was born in Jerusalem and has been an official tour guide since 2011. He studiede economy at Bier Zeit University for two years, and received a Masters degree from Sofia University in Bulgaria in Philosophy and Psychology. Mahmoud worked on programs involving civic education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for 10 years. In 2008, he co-founded the Jerusalem Tourism Cluster, which promotes tourism that highlights the Palestinian identity in Jerusalem. Mahmoud was also a correspondent and editor of several Arabic newspapers in East Jerusalem, and was a correspondent of Alsharq Alawsat newspaper in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Mahmoud can speak many languages, including Arabic, English, Bulgarian, Hebrew, and Macedonian, and has guided groups from the United States. Bulgaria, India, Taiwan, as well as Israelis and Arabs. He specializes in archaeology, history, anthropology and sociology.

 

Ari Bar Ilan, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Screenshot 2015-07-27 11.29.27Ari Bar Ilan was born in the United States and moved to Israel with his family at the age of 4 to Kibbutz Givat Haim, where he was brought up. Post high school, Ari joined the IDF and served in Maglan – an elite infantry unit. After the army, he obtained his BA in Theatre Studies at Tel Aviv University along with a teaching diploma from the Kibbutzim College. He also obtained an MA in International Business Management from Yonsei University in Korea.

As a diplomat for Israel’s Foreign Affairs, Ari’s wife was sent on diplomatic assignments abroad, giving them both an opportunity to spend time living in Korea and in Belgium. As an expat, Ari acquired a multi- cultural experience and became involved in encouraging and working with tourism to Israel.

During his professional career, Ari has worked as a theater teacher and director, as well as an actor. He was on the Israeli National Youth water polo team and took professional cooking classes at the Belgium culinary institute CERIA. Since receiving his tour guide license in Israel, Ari has been guiding groups of various kinds, including diplomatic groups, families, Birthright and more.

 

Yuval Ben-Ami, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Yuval Ben-AmiYuval Ben-Ami is an author, journalist, traveler and cultural critic. He was born in Jerusalem in 1976, and was raised in diverse corners of the country. He traveled Europe extensively in his twenties, working as a musician. Later, he moved to the United States and began writing for Israeli and international newspapers and magazines, among them Haaretz, Boston Globe, National Geographic (Israel), and Yedoith Aharonot. In 2004 he moved back to Israel where he still lives, writing the blog Everywhere. His books include “Susanna, Don’t you Cry” – a travelogue of the American South, “Finnish Mythology”,  the novel “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and two travel books about Israel – “Wonderland” and “A Day on the Town.” Yuval Ben-Ami is always on the search for interesting projects.

 

Carol Bernhem, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

BernheimCarol Ann Bernheim came to Jerusalem from the US for a years study in 1967. Other than 4 years of building boats on a Greek island, and 3 years studying Philosophy at Oxford, she has been here ever since. Her friends say that Carol Ann knows everyone worth knowing in Jerusalem, and that she is alway seeking for tours that are a blend of fascinating people – from all backgrounds and walks of life – and inspiring places.

 

Ilan Boch, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

IlanIlan Bloch, 38, works as a tour guide, teacher and session facilitator for individual tourists, and adult, family and student/young adult groups from overseas. Before making Aliyah more than a decade ago, he worked as a Jewish Studies, Hebrew and Israel Studies teacher, and served as the Head of Informal Jewish Education, at The King David School in Melbourne, Australia. He is married and lives in Jerusalem.

Ilan holds a Ministry of Tourism Tour Guide License and a Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) Ministry of Education-authorized Tour Guiding Certificate. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Education, and a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Graduate Diploma of Education (Teaching Diploma) in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Literature.

 

Eldad Brin, PhD Candidate/Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Elad Brin

A Jerusalem native, Eldad Brin has been a licensed tour guide since 2006, and specializes in leading various groups, including educational groups from Israel and abroad, through diverse aspects of Jerusalem’s history, archaeology, religion, current affairs, and geopolitics. He holds two degrees in geography from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a PhD Candidate at the geography department at the University of Haifa.

 

 Mazen Faraj, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Mazen Faraj

A former Palestinian combatant now committed to Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation, Mazen Faraj is a guide and facilitator for MEJDI Tours. He serves as projects director for the Parents Circle Families Forum, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization of over 600 families that have lost a family member as a result of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Learn more about Mazen.

 

Amit Foa, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

FoaAmit is a 29-year-old tour guide, who holds a B.A. in Political Science and Middle East Studies from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Amit grew up in a Kibbutz north of Tel Aviv and later did his military service in a combat intelligence unit. By the age of 22, Amit traveled around the world for a few years, mainly in America, the Far East, and Jordan. Amit has extensive experience in being a tour guide. He also gives lectures on Islam and Israeli politics as well as teaches Hebrew in an Arab village.

 

Jalal Ghazi Awad, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

JalalJalal was a producer of the Peabody award-wining show, Mosaic: World News from the Middle East for Link TV (2002-2010) and was the author of “Eye on Arab Media” column for New America Medea (2001-2011). After living 20 years in San Francisco, he returned to Issawiya, an Arab village in Jerusalem near Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University, Mount Scopus. He followed a 2-years tour-guiding program at Israel’s School of Tourism of Haifa University. Jalal seeks through his tour guiding to focus on understanding the multi-cultural and religious narratives of Israel and Palestine.

 

 Udi Goren, Photographer, Videographer, Social Guide/Educator

Udi Goren An experienced travel photographer, speaker, teacher, and artist, Udi Goren knew from a young age that he would grow up to be an explorer. The native Israeli graduated with honors from the visual journalism program at California-based Brooks Institute of Photography. During his studies, he interned with National Geographic Television and world-renowned photojournalist Ziv Koren. Now back in Israel, Udi documents the diversity and natural beauty of his native land, and believes that peace building and reconciliation are key to making Israel a better place for all its people. His work has been featured in several exhibitions and published in magazines in and out of Israel. Learn more about Udi via his website, udigoren.com.

 

Fakhira Halloun, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Fakhira HallounFakhira Halloun is a Palestinian woman and citizen of Israel who is committed to building a shared equal society for the Palestinian and Jewish communities in Israel. She has considerable professional experience in conflict transformation, as well was facilitating greater understanding and dialogue of the ongoing conflict between the Palestinian minority an the State of Israel. She holds a B.A. in social work and a MS in criminology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is a current PhD candidate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

 

Husam Jubran, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Husam JubranBased in Palestine, Husam Jubran serves as a representative in Palestine and Jordan for the Middle East/North Africa Social Innovators Program,. He has a Masters degree from the Eastern Mennonite University in Conflict transformation and Peacebuilding, and a diploma in tourism. Mr. Jubran also works as an interfaith Holy Land tour guide, and provides training in conflict management, crisis management, and nonviolence. Read more about Husam here and here.

 

Hadas Karmon, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Hadas photoHadas was born in Haifa, Israel and grew up in Moshav Gan- Hashomron. She is a licensed tour guide and has been guiding children, families and adults for the last 10 years.  Hadas guided field trips and environmental education programs as part of her army service and continues doing that to this day because she sees it as an educational mission.  She has a B.A. from Ben-Gurion University in Geography, Environmental Development and History of the State of Israel. She was a student at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and is a current M.A student in Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

Hadas believes that traveling in Israel can be a catalyst for personal and group growth in questioning and defining an identity. Tours are a unique space for communicating, listening, and understanding the conflict’s issues on the ground. Hadas works in tourism because she believes that it is an effective tool for peace resolution and environmental education. “He who goes with his eyes open will see at least a hundred fabulous things a day.”  L. Goldberg

 

Hila Lang-Cohen, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Married and mother of Eden, I am a certified tour guide and I particularly enjoy guiding walks in the nature, as I believe in its healing power. I am also a member of a theatre group that performs in different forests in Israel. Through my tours, I like to show the many faces that compose this complex and rich region – the variety of people, religions, and landscapes. I also work as a group facilitator for bi-national dialogues (Arabs and Jews), mainly with teenagers. I hope that we will all have a meaningful, transformative, and fun journey in the Holy Land!

 

Nathan Landau, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Landau

Nathan Landau was born in Jerusalem, and is a tour guide, youth instructor, and carpenter. He holds a B.A. in History and Geography from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a certificate as a licensed tour guide from the Yad Ben Zvi Institute. He is also a member of the Muslala group of artists, who create art fo the public in the volatile area between East and West Jerusalem.

 

Faraj Lati, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

FarajFaraj Lati is a Palestinian Christian belonging to an evangelical church in Bethlehem.  Faraj is married,  has 3 young children – 29, 25, and 20 years old – and his wife teaches Arabic language in Bethlehem. Faraj studied Germany Theology and Church studies, and he is now a Deacon in the Church as well as a retired religion and German language teacher at the Bet Sabour Evangelical School. Since 1998, Faraj has guided tours for English and German groups visiting the Holy Land. Committed to communicate the Israeli and Palestinian cultures and their misunderstandings, he is now fully engaged in the tourism branch, especially for pilgrims coming to visit the holy places.

 

Liel Maghen, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Liel Maghen Liel Maghen, an Israeli native, is the program manager of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. After raduating from the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies (AIES) program of Ben Gurion University, he completed a B.A. in Political science and Middle Eastern Studies, and is currently working on his Masters in Community Development, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Over the past five years, Liel gained much experience interning with MK Avishay Braerman in Jerusalem and the late Rep. Donald Payne in Washington, D.C. He has also worked leading programs for Mejdi Tours and several seminars for the AIES. Together with that, over the last year Liel founded the movement of “Al Fikra” which brings people from East and West Jerusalem together to engage and work on shared interests.

 

 Ilana Meallem, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Ilana MeallemIlana Meallam is a guide and facilitator for MEJDI tours. Ilana is a Londoner by birth, and fell in love with Israel at an early age. She lived in the country for a year when she was two, and the memory somehow became part of her identity. Raised in an orthodox family, her father was an Israeli-Egyptian who moved to the British city, and her mother was a British Jew. By the time she turned 18, the teenager was already working on enlisting in the Israel Defense Force, and was strongly motivated to serve her new country. Today, Ilana is one of the most remarkable “green” activists in the Middle East, inspiring, educating, promoting, and drawing ecologically sound practices. In addition to leading Eco Spirit Middl eEast retreats in Jordan for young activists in the region, she is also currently in the process of creating an ecologically-built retreat, solar-powered of course, wich will serve as a home and studio for young peacemakers from the Middle East region.  Learn more about Ilana.

 

Sharon Morgenstern, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Sharon Morgenstern

Morgie has a degree in education. After teaching in formal education in the U.S and Israel, she moved to informal education where she has been working for the last 30 years. She has been a professional tour education for 27 years, as well as a group facilitator. Her experience covers a wide range of groups, ranging from youth groups, Jewish community groups, Christian community groups, interfaith groups, political action groups, and family groups. She has also been the tour educator in Poland for over 20 groups studying the Holocaust. Morgie sees guiding as an excellent opportunity for raising awareness of the historical and social complexity of the land, which will hopefully allow us to hear the multiple narratives of this area.

 

Shira Nesher, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Shira NesherShira served in the Education unit of the IDF where she build hundreds of educational programs for Israeli soldiers and military delegations. Recently, she’s worked as legislator intern with MP Merav Michaeli, and is working on legislation regarding gender issues, same sex marriage, education, and health. Shira is a graduate of the Hebrew University, where she majored in political science and history, and also managed a dialogue program for both Israeli and Palestinian youth. Shira is passionate about her work in social enterprises, and how businesses such as tourism can help make a difference in the world.

 

 Adam Nerk, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

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Adam was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Amman, Jordan where he attended the international American Community School throughout his youth. He returned to Jerusalem as a yo
ung adult to return to his heritage and better understand the historical context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is during this time that he began to informally study Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and participate in events, workshops and tours under the auspices of numerous Middle East peace organizations.  His love of learning about religion as well as the history of this region led him to pursue a career as a tour guide. He has been active in this industry since 2008, establishing NPT Tours which strives to present one historical reality which is understood differently by various populations at different times in history. He believes he is a citizen of the world and that the world should be without borders.  Adam received his Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Business Administration at the Applied Science Private University of Amman and recently received his tour guide certification after studying two intensive years at Hebrew University. He has traveled extensively in his short time on this planet and believes in showing the beauty and mix this region has to offer, even within the context of the conflict. He brings to Mejdi Tours his tour guide experience, fluency in Arabic, English and Hebrew and vast logistical knowledge of the region.

Tamer Omari, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

883800_10151636852353714_310385864_o-300x200Tamer is a professional dialogue facilitator and musician. He has worked with Hearbeat since 2011. Born in a small village in the Fakua (Gilboa) Mountains called Sandala, Tamer was the first child of a local painter/artist Khaled Omari, so art has always played a major role in his life. After completing university in the United States, at the age of 22 Tamer moved to Italy to study the Italian language and pursue his music career in Europe. By that time, Tamer had learned to play many string instruments – guitar, bass, oud, ukulele – keyboard, and various percussion instruments (including Djembe, Tabla, Req, Bongos, Congas, etc.). Having such a wide range of musical knowledge made it easy for Tamer to find music groups to join and excel with. After spending three years in Italy, where he toured the entire country and other areas of Europe, Tamer decided that it was time to go back to his roots and share his knowledge and talent with his own people. Tamer came back to life in his small village, Sandala, offering free music lessons to young kids in his village. He also volunteered in many projects  using music to educate the Palestinian youth, to empower them and amplify their voices. Tamer attending the Seeds of Peace camp, a conflict resolution summer camp for youth from conflict regions around the world, as a 15 year old participant, and later, he returned to the camp to direct the music program and facilitate dialogues. Tamer also works as a facilitator for the Jerusalem Youth Chorus. He performs with leading Palestinian artists such as Khalas, Ruba Shamshoum, Jowan Safadi, and many others.

 

Nabil Razzouk, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

NabilNabil Razzouk is a Palestinian Christian, belonging to one of the oldest and smallest minority groups in Jerusalem – Coptic. Nabil was born and raised in the Old City of Jerusalem, completed a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration in Georgia, USA, worked for the United Nations, World Food Programme, and Oxfam in the field of the International development, relief, and aid. He has traveled throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Asia most recently. Nabil has been guiding interfaith groups, Catholic groups, Evangelicals, and others. Among many places, his favorite place to guide is in the Old City of Jerusalem where he knows the sights, streets, bazaars and hidden alleys by heart. Nabil believes in peace building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians to live in harmony, understanding, and forgiving. Nabil continues to host, receive, and guide people from all over the world who are keen to learn about the conflict in the Middle East.

 

Rafat Shomali, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

RafatRafat is a linguistics graduate and a certified tour guide. He was born in the Arabian Gulf, grew up in Nigeria, and lived in Spain for a number of years. He completed his studies in Bethlehem where he developed a career and passion for travel. Rafat is dedicated to giving travelers a unique experience, and has guided tour groups for the past 10 years in English, Arabic, and Spanish. Some of his highlights for the past year include working with Simon Reeve, who was featured in his documentary Pilgrimage, as well as guiding the British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to Bethlehem.

 

Kobi Skolnick, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Kobi SkolnickKobi is the Director of Leadership Development at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. Kobi was born into a Hasidic family in Israel and moved to a settlement in the West Bank during his high school years. He was a member of the fundamentalist Kahana youth movement that promoted an extreme religious ideology and regularly encouraged its members to assault Palestinians. However, during his service in the Israeli army he became aware of the complexity of the conflict and began to open his mind to other perspectives. In his work, he draws on his experience of having lived in an ultra-religious Jewish community and his former membership in settler movements. His extensive medical training and experience in combat also influences his understandings of human psychology and physiology. He has trained hundreds of people worldwide in transformative leadership development, consulting, facilitation, advocacy for social change, peace-building, conflict prevention, fostering cultural empathy, and creating conflict resolution and organizational capacity programs, while establishing and building peace networks on local, national, and international levels. Kobi has studied cultural studies, psychology, and religion extensively, and he is currently completing a Master’s degree in Negotiations and Conflict Resolution at the Columbia University. He is also a trained facilitator and mediator. His writings has been published in a number of media outlets around the world, and he has lectured for various international organizations and universities, such as Stanford, Yale, Harvard, American University, and Oberlin, and has appeared on numberous media outlets across the globe.

 

 Elad Vazana, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Elad VazanaElad Vazana is a professional guide and facilitator for MEJDI Tours. Vazana, a former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tank commander turned peace builder, has run programs for Arab and Jewish youth in Israel and Palestine for nearly 15 years. Learn more about Elad.

 

 

Lee Ziv, Social Guide/Cultural Educator

Lee ZivA native Israeli, Lee Ziv is a guide and facilitator for MEJDI Tours, and runs joint Arab- Jewish programs focused on music and spirituality.

 

Sharón Benheim, Facilitator

Sharon BenheimA committed advocate of communication and mediation, Sharón Benheim studied psychology and conflict resolution, and specializes in process design and facilitation for groups, communities, and organizations. She is a member of Mediators Beyond Borders and a past staff member of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Sharón holds a masters in public policy, with a specialty in mediation and conflict resolution, from Tel Aviv University, and is currently continuing her graduate studies at Ben Gurion University.

 

Samer

Samer is a Licensed Tour Guide and a professional interpreter with a long career in Information Technology and Business Consulting.  Samer was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian Jerusalemite family and attended the “College Des Freres” school in the Old City. After high school, he moved to the United States where he spent there 10 years of his life between college, grad school and work in Ohio. After his return, he decided to become a professional tour guide to help build bridges through mutual respect and understanding. Samer is married and is blessed with two wonderful boys.

 

 

 

Travel Planners

Josh Bloom

bloomheadshotWith an extensive background in peace-building, human rights, and socially conscious travel planning, Josh Bloom has worked in Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, Albania, Belize, South Africa, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and the UK. Before joining the MEJDI team, Josh was Director of Israel Programs for T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights-North America) where he led rabbis and rabbinical students in advocacy campaigns focused on Palestinian property rights, Bedouin land rights, and the rights of African asylum seekers in Israel. Prior to that, he lived in Jerusalem where he served as a Consultant to Rabbis for Human Rights. He has also worked for American Jewish World Service, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Amnesty International USA, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, the Conflict and Health Programme at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Health and Human Rights Programme at the University of Cape Town. Josh has published journal articles and lectured on peace theory and authored numerous op-eds. He received his M.S. in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health and a B.S. in Applied Social Sciences and an International Studies Certificate from Binghamton University. Josh and his family live in the idyllic Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, where his wife, Rabbi Jodie Gordon, serves as one of the rabbis of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.

 

Norman Conner

NormanI grew up in Knoxville, TN and went in the USAF after graduation. After studying Medical Management from Carson-Newman College I became a hospital Business Office Manager, but soon realized that management was not where my passion was. I changed career fields and went to seminary in Louisville, KY. My family then moved to Virginia in 1998 and I became a Youth Pastor. Taking kids on mission trips to Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala increased my childhood passion of travel and love of different cultures. Six years later I started a church where I am currently the Lead Pastor and have been for over 10 years. Going to Israel with MEJDI changed my perspective on traveling with a purpose so much that I wanted to join their team. I am passionately in love with my life and blessed with two great kids. I truly believe our world can be a better place if we take the time to get to know one another and being part of MEJDI  is one way to fulfill that dream.

 

Anne Gilheany

Bio Pic AnneWith a deep interest in intercultural cooperation and education, Anne gained experience with research and advocacy at International Peace Academy and the Refugee Project at Human Rights First. Afterwards she taught global studies, designed a women’s history course, and led a Model UN Team to Russia. As director of the high school program at Summer on the Hill at Horace Mann School, she bridged public and private school students through enrichment programs, and expanded partnerships. Anne has a M.A. in International Affairs from American University, and studied for a year at Hebrew University and Birzeit University where she concentrated on historiographies of the Middle East. Amid the divisiveness of life between Ramallah and East and West Jerusalem, she was compelled by efforts to build unity. In the belief that purposeful travel is a critical social good, Anne is excited to bring the MEJDI mission to a growing clientele.

 

Kelly Vest

Kelly

For over a decade, Kelly Vest has been a pioneer in the field of international cross-cultural travel and programming. Her award winning initiatives have changed the lives and attitudes of many, helping to foster sharing and understanding among some of the most conflicted communities in the world. Winner of the Suffolk County Human Rights Award for Excellence in Educational Programming, Kelly’s leadership, creative programs and unfettered access to people and places, allows her to create unsurpassed cultural experiences. As Director of Community & International Relations for the Suffolk Y JCC, one of the largest JCC’s in North America, Kelly conceived of and lead the HAMSA (Heroes Are Made through Service and Action) program, an international cross cultural exchange with travel programming throughout Israel and the US, bringing American Muslim and Jewish university students together with Israeli Muslim and Jewish students. Her Seeds of Change program, awarded honors by the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center, provided opportunities for cultural sharing between New York area Latino and Jewish communities. As Assistant Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England Region, Kelly conceived of, wrote and launched the No Place For Hate® campaign in partnership with Massachusetts municipal leaders, to promote intercultural respect and understanding. No Place For Hate® has mushroomed over the last 15 years into a national force for good adopted by municipalities, schools and institutions throughout the country, positively impacting the lives of millions.

Kelly is deeply committed to and passionate about intercultural travel. She is a graduate of Brown University and has a Masters from the Heller School at Brandeis University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three children.

 Lee Pratt

1420461Lee is a self proclaimed connection addict and the first to admit that her enthusiasm with people pollinating is borderline obsessive. She grew up on a Socialist commune in Israel, propelled by cross-cultural, cross-sectional and cross-generational experiences and became a peace activist at the ripe age of three. She served as a tour and snorkeling guide in the South of Israel and then went on to convince her friend to join her on a backpacking expedition around the world, literally. Now happily married to that friend, and settled in the South of the US, she conspires fun ways to prove the importance of experiential learning to their 10-year-old daughter by introducing her to new cultures, tastes, and dance moves. Beware; she just might talk you in to joining her on the next adventure. Find out more about her here.

 

Travis Noland

TravisNoland-profile2 Raised on an organic fruit farm in a small, but diverse community in Northern California, Travis has always been drawn to people from different backgrounds and cultures. After earning his business degree from Pepperdine University, he journeyed to post-conflict regions of Guatemala, Rwanda and India where he helped build socially motivated start-ups over several years. Travis has since returned to his wife, Nicolette, in San Francisco where he specializes in building partnerships at the intersection of sustainable business, media, travel and social impact.

Travis comes alive when constructing platforms and facilitating opportunities for people to come together across perceived barriers. He is thrilled to live out his purpose by introducing people to the transformational power of Mejdi Tours!

Nicole Morgan

Nicole Morgan grew up loving travel, cultures, and learning new things. Her professional background includes a few years teaching high school English near Atlanta, GA. As a teacher of literature, Nicole values the power of stories, especially the ones that come from unfamiliar places. These stories have the ability to change how we understand and interact with the world. Nicole transitioned from being a classroom educator to working with an education-focused non-profit near Chicago, IL for three years. Nicole graduated from Palmer Theological Seminary in 2014 with a Master of Theological Studies with an emphasis in Public Policy. While at Palmer, she served as a Sider Scholar with Evangelicals for Social Action.  She currently lives near Atlanta, GA and serves in a variety of ministries, including as a ministry assistant to Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon. Nicole strongly believes that getting to know our neighbors across the street and across the globe is a way to work towards peace.

 

Business Advisors

Howard Bergman, Business Advisor

Howard BergmanDuring his 25 years as assistant general counsel at a multinational Fortune 100 company renowned for its diverse products and markets served, Howard Bergman worked closely with executives and their business teams developing and implementing strategic and operational plans. An avid traveler by trade, his work included serving in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked as general counsel for the company’s European, Middle Eastern, and African regions, traveling frequently to work with business teams throughout the region. Now a business negotiations consultant based in Alexandria, VA, Howard now serves as a business advisor for MEJDI.

 

Ofri Brener, Business Advisor

Ofri BrenerDeeply committed to supporting entrepreneurs with ideas that lead to positive changes in their communities, Ofri Brener has over a decade’s worth of small business development experience in both Israel and the United States. Currently director of business consulting for the Partnership Development Group-an organization dedicated to helping disabled entrepreneurs develop business plans, apply for funding, and achieve their dreams of financial independence through business ownership-Ofri previously worked as a business consultant for Israeli-based business technology consulting firm Strauss Strategy. He received his MBA and a B.S. in information systems management from the University of Connecticut School of Business.

 

Seth Morrison, Business Advisor

Seth MorrisonWith extensive professional experience in trade associations and the cable television industry, Seth Morrison is a consultant specializing in marketing and management. As a marketer, he has been responsible for strategic planning, major local and national marketing, public relations, and social media campaigns. Morrison is currently on the board of Ameinu, J Street’s Washington DC Metro Steering Committee, and is active in LGBT organizations and local politics in Northern Virginia.

 

Dale Hanson Bourke, Business Advisor

dhb_petraDale Hanson Bourke is president of PDI, a marketing and communications strategy firm, and is the author of 10 books.  Her most recent book is The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:  Tough Questions, Direct Answers.  Previously president of the CIDRZ Foundation and SVP at World Relief, Bourke has also served as publisher of Religion News Service and was a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist.

A graduate of Wheaton College, she holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.  She has served on the boards of World Vision US, World Vision International, International Justice Mission, Sojourners, ECFA, and Opportunity International.  She currently serves on the board of MAP International. The mother of two grown sons, she lives near Washington, DC, with her husband, Tom, and is a member of National Presbyterian Church.

 

Meghan Murphy

IMG_6184Meghan Murphy is a community and social media marketing strategist based in Washington, DC. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a BA in journalism and Spanish in 2008, she began to work with emerging blogging and social platforms that democratized first-person storytelling. She loves to travel and connect with people all over the world both digitally and in-person. She gets excited by the potential for social technologies to bridge cultural gaps and help people understand one another.

 

 

Julie Fahnestock

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Julie is passionate about telling the story of where business meets good. She is the Founder of B Storytelling, a content development company specifically designed to help popularize the good happening through business. They do this by helping Benefit Corporations and other social enterprises identify, build and leverage their brands. Julie has an MBA in Managing for Sustainability from Marlboro Graduate School. She lives a dual life in West Palm Beach, Florida and New York City.

 

Etienne Morris, Business Advisor

Etienne, the quintessential middle child, is driven to build bridges of understanding between people. From toddling out to the front desk to         answer “the buzzer” at her parents’ small motel in Stowe, VT in the 60’s to rooms division management roles in some of Boston’s landmark hotel properties in the 80’s to her current position as president of her own recruiting and consulting firm – authentic, relationship-building communication is at the core of what Etienne is all about.
After working for years in Hospitality Management, Software Product Development, and Luxury Tours, in 2007 Etienne accepted a position of sourcer, and later recruiter, for a small search firm offering concierge-style services specializing in technical and functional roles for Big4 management consulting firms (e.g. Deloitte, IBM Global Services, Accenture) and key positions for select Fortune 150 industry clients. In 2012, she opened her own boutique firm, offering customized recruiting services for businesses and personalized career support for individuals.

Etienne’s company, Morris Recruiting & Consulting is a certified B Corporation, as are many of her clients – MEJDI Tours, SunCommon, Cabot Creamery / Agri Mark. B Corporations have a demonstrable commitment to our world in that their success is measured by their positive impact on people and planet, as well as the more traditional measure of profit. Etienne’s client list also includes Renewable NRG Systems, Inntopia, The Manor, Vermont Bottling Company, as well as engineering, hospitality, cpa, and financial services firms in Vermont and beyond.

When she’s not actively recruiting, she’s likely helping candidates write awesome resumes resulting in them rediscovering and celebrating their skills and experiences, reigniting their job search, giving them confidence to bring their whole selves to interviews, connecting with people authentically and trusting in the power of emotional honesty!

Etienne lives in Stowe, VT with her husband, two kids (one in high school, one on a gap year in southeast Asia), two crazy little dogs, Blizzard and Tini, surrounded by the friends, family and mountains she deeply loves.