Shoshana Akabas Barzel, the founder and executive director of New Neighbors Partnership, a non-profit that welcomes refugee families by matching them with local families, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. Akabas Barzel lives on the Upper West Side.
For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.
New York Jewish Week: Tell us a little bit about your work.
Akabas Barzel: New Neighbors Partnership reimagines in-kind donations by turning what is normally a one-time blind donation into a long-standing relationship between families. In this model, newly arrived families are matched with local families who have slightly older kids, so clothes go directly from the local families that have them to the refugee families that need them. By matching families, we ensure newly arrived families will have a source of kids’ clothes for years to come. After three years of running this program as a community initiative on the side of my teaching and writing job at Columbia University, I turned it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We have welcomed more than 350 children from 34 countries with over 1,500 clothing packages.
How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?
The Jewish value of welcoming the stranger was instilled in me from a young age, so my work at New Neighbors Partnership feels like a natural extension of that foundation.
Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?
One experience was attending Beit Rabban, a pluralistic Jewish day school on the Upper West Side that was so welcoming and open, and prepared students to be deep thinkers and creative problem solvers.
What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?
My grandmother’s house!
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