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Pierson 6 Under 36

The Marjorie Oberdorfer Bronner Pierson and Theodore Pierson Family Endowment for the Jewish Future “Six Under 36” program celebrates six noteworthy Jewish Central New Yorkers, all 36 years old or younger, who make Jewish Central New York and the larger community better by bringing remarkable energy and new ideas to religion, philanthropy, the arts, learning, social action and inclusion. These talented young adults are changing our community for good by building a more just society and creating community in innovative ways. The six award recipients. chosen by a panel of community members from nominations made by the community, received a donor advised fund of $1,000 at the Jewish Community Foundation of Central New York, to be used to support an organization with which they have worked or a cause they support. 


                       NICOLE ENGEL is a senior at Nazareth College studying communication sciences and disorders (speech therapy). She served as a madricha in the Temple Concord Sunday School, attended the Epstein High School of Jewish Studies, went to URJ sleepaway camps and was confirmed at Temple Concord.  A member of Hillel at Nazareth, she helps plan events, most recently a Tu b'Shevat learning seminar, for the campus.  She was awarded a Civic Engagement Award by Nazareth for her work with the Rochester School District providing mentorship for kindergarten students as they transitioned to school and giving one-on-one support to struggling students. 

In January, Nicole went on a Birthright trip to Israel. After returning home, she decided that she wanted to go back to Israel. She was accepted into Onward Israel's Science and Health Tech program for this summer. While there, she will be working with children with special needs. Working in Israel will give her experience working in a different cultural setting and will improve her Hebrew language skills. She hopes to help the Central New York Jewish community by working with those who need speech therapy. She also hopes to help the wider community, not just in Syracuse, but everywhere. 

ALEC ERLEBACHER is the founder of SmartAlec, a business which

utilizes his multitalented and multiskilled experiences in all types of photography and

other tasks that require support in multiple areas of the complex digital world. Alec

went to the Syracuse Hebrew Day School, became bar mitzvah at Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse, worked at the JCC summer camp and was for many years its head counselor.  He still returns to teach the JCC's rocketry and gaming camps and recently taught computer classes for seniors at the J. 


Alec has a bachelor’s degree from SUNY at Buffalo in media studies and a master of science degree in photography from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.  Alec has done professional portraiture of Jewish clergy.  He sits on the Central New York Board of Film Professionals. He assisted and was credited in a major motion picture made in Syracuse by an award-winning Israeli film director. Alec is heavily embedded in helping the Jewish community of Syracuse. He made a video for ECDP parents to see the classrooms during the COVID-19 lockdown. He was here then and is here now and is dedicated to the nourishment of Jewish life in Central New York. He even says that he offers a "tribal discount" in his business.  


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                   ROSS GREENKY is an attorney in Barclay Damon LLP’s Labor & Employment Practice Area Group. Ross primarily concentrates on labor and employment matters, assisting employers with issues such as workplace discrimination, harassment and retaliation and FMLA compliance.  He was named a Rising Star Attorney by Super Lawyers from 2017 through 2021. His nominator for the 6 Under 36 award said, “Central New York is very fortunate to have someone of Ross's background and caliber. He is a true leader in our Jewish community.”  


Ross serves as a member of Barclay Damon’s Next Generation Committee and participates in the firm’s pro bono program which provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals and organizations that assist them, helping to navigate issues related to immigration, housing, women's rights, prisoners’ rights, community building and economic development. Ross has been a member of the Syracuse Hebrew Day School’s Board of Directors since 2017 and now serves as vice president. Ross recently won a case against Swiss Village for discriminating against people whose native language was not English.  He is quoted on the Barclay Damon website as saying, “It's that every now and then when you get to be a part of justice being done—that really is quite a thrill." 

LEAH EVE JEZER-NELSON is a graduate of the Syracuse Hebrew Day School

and the Epstein School, where she has taught for six years. She was an officer in

USY and  vice president and spokesperson of the Teen Funders program for the

Jewish Community Foundation and received a Federation scholarship to visit Israel as a high school student with BBYO. At Wells College, she represented the interfaith student community on the President’s Council and set up programs which included Jewish holidays.  After graduating, she spent a year in Israel teaching underprivileged children as part of the MASA program. 

Leah currently works at U.Mass, Amherst as a representative of IACT, Inspired Active Committed Transformed, which engages less-affiliated first and second year students, recruits them to join Birthright Israel trips and stewards their involvement in Jewish campus life. Leah recently led a Birthright group of 52 students to Israel.  She is a member of the faculty of the Syracuse Community Hebrew School and teaches there remotely. A talented writer, she has contributed to the JO as well as other newspapers, wrote a weekly parsha for the Syracuse Community Hebrew School and edited their newsletter.

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                      ELYSSA ROSENBAUM has been very active with The Maccabiah, the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition, which emphasizes the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people. Elyssa competed in the Maccabi Games in Mexico City in 2019. She raced the triathlon, open water swim, half marathon and cycling time trial and won two gold and two silver medals.  In 2020, Elyssa helped to manage the experience for other athletes, helping them get to all of their games and practices, supervising/acting as a counselor for the Israel Connect program and generally troubleshooting to make the experience as successful as possible.

Elyssa serves on the board of the Jewish Federation.  As co-chair of the Young Leadership Committee, she has been instrumental in transitioning Young Leadership into NexGen, rebranding and reorganizing Young Leadership to better reflect the realities of today’s young adults.  Under her leadership, NexGen has been involved in delivering mishloach manot for Federation, helping pack dozens of boxes of household goods for new immigrants to Syracuse, working at Reverse Tashlich and volunteering at the Everson Museum.  She developed a new description for the NexGen group.  Her nominator wrote, “Elyssa’s love for Israel and the Syracuse Jewish community speaks volumes about how crucial she is to the future growth of the Syracuse Jewish community.”  

TALIA ZAMES is a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology, majoring in

biomedical sciences. A graduate of the Syracuse Hebrew Day School, Talia attended

Christian Brothers Academy where she was active in interfaith programming, served as a peer

minister, lead retreats for younger students, organized fundraisers and planned events to educate the student body about important issues of social justice. Her most significant accomplishment was erasing $6.7 million of medical debt through Project Eraser, a program she developed in conjunction with RIP Medical Debt.   In 2021, Talia was selected as one of 200 participants from Jewish communities around the world to take part in the Jewish Federations of North America’s Changemakers Fellowship, an online leadership development experience for 20–25-year-olds who want to effect positive change in their community and the world at large.

At RIT, she served on the Biomedical Sciences Mentor Program Committee and as a note taker for students with disabilities. During COVID, she volunteered to bring compassionate attention to isolated seniors in rural areas via the internet. In 2022, she received the New York State Assembly Citation for Community Service. She recently coordinated a campus-wide “Tigers Tackling Medical Debt” program at RIT to erase medical debt on the national level. She received an RIT Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar Award, celebrating the top 1% of undergraduates who achieve academic excellence while also giving back to the community. 

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                 ALAN CHELNITSKY AND ALEXANDER GABRIEL met in Israel when Alex was                     discharging from the IDF Alan was enlisting. They stayed in touch over the years. Learning  about Moishe House, they asked each other, “How come we don’t open one in Syracuse?” They joined forces, applied and were approved to open a Moishe Pod in downtown Syracuse. They reached out to the Central New York Jewish community to identify young Jewish adults aged 22-32 who are interested in building and leading their dream Jewish community with their friends.

MELISSA HARKAVY’s creative problem-solving and “let’s find a way to make that work” 

attitude was put to the test when faced with managing the Congregation Beth                          Sholom-Chevra Shas response to COVID, a rabbinic transition, new staff positions and         

ongoing security upgrades. Melissa relates to and cares about people of all ages and backgrounds. She obtained a Scientists and Synagogues grant linking professional scientists as mentors to students, partnering with Syracuse University Hillel. She reached across congregational boundaries to create one Syracuse area United Synagogue Youth chapter to better serve local teens and has served as Zoom master for Federation’s Super Sundays for two years.

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               DIANA KOESTER is passionate about teaching the next generation. As soon as she                         relocated to the  Syracuse area she dove into teaching 7th grade at Temple Concord,                       taking on the difficult task of untangling  Jewish history from the Holocaust to present day. She studies antisemitism and its causes with them and helps them process what it means to be Jewish in today’s world. When the opportunity arose to join the faculty of the Syracuse Hebrew Day School, she jumped at the chance and also taught Jewish art electives at the Epstein School. Diana is currently serving on the team overseeing the year-one projects of Temple Concord’s five-year strategic plan, developing intergenerational dialogues around issues of tikun olam. 


HUGHIE AND AVERY STONE FISH are co-founders of Stone Fish Studios. Hughie

Stone Fish wrote and produced a city-wide project called “Welcome to Syracuse,” which                  showcased Syracuse businesses, organizations, choirs and citizens to draw positive attention to the city and bring everyone together in song. The brothers founded The Arts Project Syracuse to benefit those less fortunate. Hughie received an Emmy award for outstanding original song for a video that used historical cartoon drawings of racist and antisemitic stereotypes to educate viewers on how images may have helped normalize the idea of Jewish people as villains. They are both deeply rooted in their Jewish identities, having grown up in Central New York, attended the Day School and the JCC summer camp. 

                 MOOKEY VAN ORDEN is an educator, writer, actress, director, teacher and artist. She                   works in a school as an engagement specialist and is also involved in many theatre and performing arts companies. Black stories, female stories, stories of mental illness and the inclusion of marginalized voices are paramount to Mookey’s process and artistic works. She is working on a filmed production of a new work, “Kill Move Paradise” for the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company and directed the Central New York Playhouse’s presentation of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Mookey is a graduate of the Syracuse Hebrew Day School and the Epstein School of Jewish Studies, where she recently co-taught a class on “How to Be a Jewish Antiracist.” As a person of color and a person with a strong Jewish identity, Mookey has had to work out her own pathway. 


 SARA WEILER contributes to the local Jewish community and beyond through the                 selfless donation of her time and talent to many local arts organizations and charities                     by fundraising and facilitating valuable civic programs. As the adjudication coordinator of the prestigious Syracuse High School Theatre Awards, she spearheaded the creation of the official handbook and grading rubric used to encourage the achievements and growth of hundreds of high school theatre students from 2015-2020. Through charity partnerships with local performing arts companies, Sara has actively raised thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations. As performing is Sara’s passion, she has created, produced and performed in musical theatre cabarets at The Oaks at Menorah Park and at Temple Concord, emceed musical theatre nights and performed with numerous local companies in starring and supporting roles.

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