Shalom Austin Staff and Volunteer Spotlight

Shalom Austin Staff and Volunteer Spotlight

Jessica Ochs
Youth and Teen Director
Shalom Austin JCC

What is your role and what do you do at Shalom Austin?
I am the Youth and Teen Director at Shalom Austin.  I oversee all general School-Aged (grades K-12) programs, including JCamps, Kids Connection, BBYO, and a few others.

What is your background and what brought you to Shalom Austin?
I have been involved in Jewish education and Jewish camping my entire life, and after graduating with a degree in education I wanted to follow my passion and help build the next generation of Jewish youths.  After moving to Austin in 2012, I joined Camp Shalom as a counselor and have worked my way up to the director role.

What do feel has been your most rewarding experience so far?
My most rewarding experience has been watching “our kids” grow and mature through the years.  I have been a part of this organization for 5 years and 6 summers, and I have seen so many campers and KC students blossom into who they are today.

What is your favorite part about working here?
My favorite part about working here is the people.  From fellow staff to members to families, Shalom Austin is truly a community.  It is so much fun and so rewarding to be a part of it!

Describe any exciting programs or projects in the works?
Summer camp, summer camp, summer camp!  JCamps is one of the most exciting and fulfilling programs here at Shalom Austin.  Each summer we strive to create an enriching and fun experience for everyone who attends.  We are also working with Jewish Family Service to further expand our inclusion program for our campers with special needs at Camp Shalom.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Come to Shalom Austin!  Get involved, even if it’s attending a small event.  You will not be disappointed!  One of the most unique, and best, qualities of the Jewish community in Austin is that we are all mostly transplants, so we know what it is like to be the new kid in town.  I guarantee you will find some incredible people, fun programs, and become part of this Austin family.

Erik Cohen
Shalom Austin Jewish Foundation

What is your role at Shalom Austin?
I am a member of the Board and Investment Committee of the Shalom Austin Jewish Foundation.  When my wife and I moved back to Austin in 2012, I wanted to get involved in the Jewish Community and started by joining the Men's Cabinet and co-chairing the Krassner Poker Tournament.

What made you decide to become a Shalom Austin volunteer?
It is in my DNA.  My parents and grandparents have been very involved in Jewish organizations - sharing their time and resources.  The importance of helping others and building a strong and sustaining Jewish community was instilled in me at an early age.  Whether co-chairing an event or joining the Men’s Cabinet, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Jewish community. My wife (Beth Cohen) and I prioritized continuing the civic engagement that we witnessed from our parents and grandparents.  We believe that it is incumbent on us to instill a Jewish Identity in our children and help continue to build the Jewish community in Austin for future generations.

Why is volunteering important to you?
The foundation for a strong Jewish community has been built in Austin through the hard work and dedication of volunteers like my in-laws, Marcia and Bruce Levy, and other members of their generation.  It is my obligation to build upon their work to ensure that there is a vibrant and lasting Jewish community in Austin.

Tell me a little bit about your background and what you’ve done with the organization…
I am originally from Pittsburgh and am the middle of 3 boys. My wife and I first met at The George Washington University in Washington, DC and spent 10 years in Manhattan after college.  We both went to graduate school in the city and she practiced architecture while I worked with families and foundations on their investments.  In 2012, we decided to move back to her hometown of Austin to raise our family. We are lucky to have 2 amazing children.  Since moving back to Austin, we've become engaged in the Jewish community through the JCC and as board members of ADL.
In the summer of 2016, I helped open the 8th office of Brown Advisory – a private investment firm that works with families, foundations and endowments.  There are six along the East Coast, one in London and now one in Austin. The firm has a distinct culture and approach, one that obviously aligns with my own identity.  We aim to make a material and positive impact in the lives of our clients and our communities. We intend to do that and more.

What do you feel has been your most rewarding experience so far?
I am an investment nerd at heart.  Fortunately for me, that is also my profession! Being able to apply my experience and craft as a member of the Jewish Foundation Investment Committee has been extremely rewarding. I am lucky to have met some quality people with a common vision.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Just do it. It will be an incredibly rewarding experience. We need your time, talent and treasures to ensure that we build an inclusive and sustainable Jewish community for today and for future generations. Additionally, if you don't know Daniel and the Shalom Austin team, then I hope you get to know them. I am excited about the trajectory that they have set for our community. ■

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