JCPA taps Karen Elam as new senior vice president

Elam, a former JCRC director, is set to assume her new position at JCPA on Sept. 5, eJewishPhilanthropy and Jewish Insider have learned exclusively. 

The Jewish Council of Public Affairs has tapped Karen Elam, the founding executive director of the Levine Center to End Hate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, N.Y., as senior vice president, the organization told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The move comes at a pivotal juncture for the umbrella group for 125 Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country as it restructures and implements a new strategic plan focused on building coalitions with other communities, with the goal of “strengthening our democracy and commitment to an inclusive and just society,” as the organization announced in December.

The changes included ceasing operation under a “consensus model” of finding common ground among its 125 national Jewish Community Relations Councils and 16 national Jewish organizations and instead using a coalition model.

“We are thrilled to have Karen join us,” JCPA CEO Amy Spitalnick told eJP. “She has an incredible track record and so much of that lays the groundwork of what she’ll be doing at JCPA.” 

Spitalnick said Elam, who is set to assume her position on Sept. 5, is expected to launch coalition efforts focused on combating hate and extremism, as well as protecting and advancing democracy, “specifically bringing together national and local Jewish organizations and partners across communities in support of those goals,” Spitalnick told eJP. 

While there have been senior vice presidents in JCPA’s past, Spitalnick explained that the specific work Elam is slated to do — leading coalitions focused on combating hate and protecting democracy — is new.

Spitalnick added that this is an imperative moment for Elam to step into her position, against a backdrop of ongoing antisemitism and extremism. “It’s crucial that we demonstrate how interconnected we are with other communities. That’s precisely at the core of JCPA’s legacy and at the core of these coalitions and the broader work Karen will do with us.” 

Spitalnick, who took helm of JCPA in May, noted that Elam’s appointment means there are now three women in leadership roles at JCPA. “I’m especially excited about the strong female leadership,” she said, “with me coming on as CEO, Leslie Dannin Rosenthal [selected as chair last month] and now Karen.” 

A mother of young adult triplets, Elam has served since 2018 as the founding executive director of the Levine Center to End Hate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, an initiative founded in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the prior year. The Levine Center has reached over 4,000 adults and youth through education and dialogue programs addressing racism, antisemitism, transphobia and other forms of hate. Elam, who has experience working with homeless and LGBTQ+ populations, was a Peace Corps volunteer and subsequently worked as a cross-cultural trainer in Honduras. 

In an emailed statement to eJP, Elam expressed excitement about her new role. 

“I’m delighted to be joining the JCPA at this moment in its storied history and thrilled at the opportunity to work with respected colleagues in the community relations field as well as national Jewish and non-Jewish organizations,” she said.