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Getting to Know Yael Herskovits: Empowerment through Connection and Education

In many ways, Yael has lived a life characterized by dual consciousness and navigating contradictions. The granddaughter of Easter European survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent refugees, Yael was born and raised in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. On a daily basis, she navigated a German society that was on one hand repentant of its past while also acutely oblivious to the challenging experiences and daily struggles of its minoritized communities and continued antisemitism. Even within her Jewish community, a duality existed between the vibrant expression of their religious and cultural bonds and foreboding trauma borne by the surviving generation and carried by their offspring.

Deeply interested in social justice and minority rights, her studies led her to Paris focusing on Comparative and International Politics and International Law. There, she researched many different kinds of human rights abuses. A subsequent short stint working on cultural education at the Ministry of Arts and Sciences in Hessen and volunteering at a migrant school in Shanghai thrust her into exploring education policy. However, these experiences merely served as precursors to her career upon discovering Humanity in Action. In the description of the Humanity in Action’s Berlin Fellowship program, she saw an opportunity to apply a structural understanding of addressing societal inequities to a deeper understanding of efforts to foster a pluralistic German society. In this, she sought to connect with Fellow engaged in contemporary efforts around combating racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of marginalization and discrimination.

Following the Berlin Fellowship, Yael applied to be a Pat Cox Fellow. Working in the Cabinet of Hannes Swoboda, at that time the president of the S&D group, during the Pat Cox Fellowship gave Yael an opportunity to experience politics on the European level while gaining insights on social justice that led to an eventual shift in career path. Realizing that she would like to rethink the relationship of process and action, she applied to The New School studying International Affairs and Organizational Change Management.

Through her Fellowship at the European Parliament, her career ambitions shifted.

“I learned so much as a Pat Cox Fellow. At times I, however, felt very far away from our constituents, and it was hard to escape the Brussels bubble. The process towards change within the political system was one that I found too limiting. I yearned to rethinking the relationship between action and process.”

Having focused on ethnicity and religion as sources for exclusion and marginalization in Europe, she applied to study at the New School to learn more about US history and present and focus more on racial and class factors as sources for exclusion and marginalization and exploration organizational change theory.

For Yael, Humanity in Action is a vibrant community bound by common values, like a big family, in more ways than one. Not only has she found a beautiful community, but she also met her husband, a fellow Senior Fellow through the Pat Cox Program. Their relationship propelled her to build a home in the US and embrace even more identities and consciousness.

Many American residents without citizenship rights are conflicted and confused about how they can play a part in the US political and social system after the last elections. For Yael, the answer became clear – making an impact through human rights education with Humanity in Action.

Yael views being Humanity in Action’s US National Director her way to engage with the complex issues of pluralism, democracy and human rights in a manner that makes these topics approachable and engaging for younger new Fellows and the growing community of older Senior Fellows.

Yael is excited for the future of Humanity in Action and has been working hard to bring new programs and partnerships into reality.  She deeply appreciates connecting with Senior Fellows and collaborating with them on programming. Among many other things she is currently working on innovative projects such as 10-day study trips for Senior Fellows, in which they can engage in discussions and dialogues for a portion of the day and work directly with local organizations for the rest of the day or building webinar series for Senior Fellows by Senior Fellows. Yael and the New York office is looking forward to rolling out some of these programs and more in the coming months and years.

Ultimately Yael believes the connections Humanity in  Action allows us to develop with other people in the network is the most extraordinary force for change both on an individual and community level.

She believes that there is so much the Humanity in Action community can learn from and through each other and is excited to explore these opportunities.

Yael feels honored to serve the Humanity in Action community and looks forward to meeting you!