Hi. We are the Varda institute For Community Building

We guide organizations and groups in building communities and adopting 
a culture of belonging. A Culture that enables people to feel they matter are
committed and willing to come together, stand up to their challenges, and pursue new opportunities.
To better their lives and surroundings. To create change. To make a difference.

our vision

A world where every person belongs to a community that promotes a common good.

our values

We believe that every individual possesses and
offers a unique value.

We believe meaningful relationships, shared trust,
and commitment have the power to spark action.

We believe that we all are responsible for improving
our surroundings and the world.

Mic drop.

What do we offer?

We support organizations, groups, and communities in an immersive process, weaving
Culture of Belonging principles into the way they operate. We bring a change of mindset
that creates wonders.

training & coaching

Resources &
best practices

& workshops

Global Learning

Through our work process, we design and implement a sustainable Culture of Belonging infrastructure to achieve a long-term impact on individuals, organizations, and society.

our impact

Better Outcomes

Organizations strengthen their ability to succeed. Improved engagement, retention, leadership, activism, and collaboration are evident.

Stronger Engagement

Members, partners & stakeholders gain a richer, more robust sense of belonging, meaning, and commitment to their mission and each other

Long Term Impact

Creators of social change are ignited and sustained.

We have seen it come to life around the world,
working with diverse audiences and entities:

Business Organizations
Community Centers
Educational Institutions
Program’s Alumni
Religious Institutions
Villages, towns, and cities

about us

We are all change-makers, and by all, we also mean you.
The power of community around the globe can move people. Figuratively and literally.
To do that, we bring

World-class Expertise in the field
International Knowledge and experience
Strategies, models, best practices, and tools
Tailored process for each organization
A seasoned global team

Meredith Levick Drachsler

Meredith Levick
VI Senior Consultant

I thrive on creating mutually rich cross-collaborations and supporting global Jewry, and I believe in the power of being in deep relationship with others in order to create effective impact. I am a senior program professional with a background in communications, client management, and organizational development. My work experience spans the secular and the Jewish world. In the past I have worked for Hazon, Office of Innovation, American Express, and Forbes. Currently I work as a consultant for a number of organizations, including the Varda Institute and Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator.

Additionally I am a writer and poet – and my writing is a commentary on harnessing the shared nature of the human experience to relate more substantively to each other and to day to day life. I hold a BA in English literature and Spanish from Northwestern University and an MA in Experiential Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Additionally, I received a graduate certification in Israel Education from the iCenter. I am a proud graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Adaptive Leadership Lab, funded by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In my personal life, I am hooked on minimalism and letting go of that which does not serve my family and me. I am conversationally fluent in Spanish, forever trying to pick up more Hebrew, and an avid fanatic of all things Israeli culture. My family and I live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

Carrie Bornstein

Carrie Bornstein
VI Senior Consultant

Throughout my career I have worked to create a Jewish community that is inclusive, accessible, and welcoming to all. I believe that each person has something meaningful to learn from others and has something significant to contribute; when we create environments that facilitate that exchange, our entire community will thrive.
I live in the Boston area where I served as CEO of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education center for more than a decade, having grown the organization’s reach and impact significantly during my tenure.

With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work (Macro Practice) from Skidmore College and Boston University respectively, I also participated in DeLeT (Day School Leadership through Teaching) at Brandeis University, learned at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, the fifth cohort of Schusterman Fellows, and was named one of the 18 most influential young adults in Boston by Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

You can find me online leading the Mental Health in the Jewish Community Facebook group and through my blog, “ There’s no I in Uterus,” that tracks my journey as gestational carrier. I enjoy knitting, cooking, creating homemade Purim costumes, and live with my husband, Jamie, and our three children.

Dr. Sara Shadmi-Wortman
Co-Founder and CEO

I am Sara Shadmi-Wortman, known as Sarale. I am the Co-Founder and CEO of The Varda International Institute for Community Building.

I devote my professional life to helping groups and individuals live meaningfully by joining together, bringing their talents and uniqueness, and creating strong, vibrant communities that can address shared challenges. Based on my experience building a new kibbutz in Israel, leading the young Kibbutzim movement, and being a member of an educators group that established an educational center for Jewish education (HaMisrasha), I developed a new approach to strengthening communities. This approach is based on creating a culture of belonging through Community Building, and today, it is successfully implemented worldwide.

During the past 30 years as a faculty member of Oranim, the Academic College of Education of the Kibbutz Movement, I developed a Community Building BA and an MA degree program. During that time, I also co-founded SHDEMOT, Oranim’s field department dedicated to leading processes of Community Building in urban, rural, and peripheral regions in Israel, impacting national policy for the Israel Association for Community Centers.

Previously I established and directed a teacher training program-HOTAM and served as the Northern Regional Director of the Ministry of Education, overseeing the activities of 600 schools.

I hold a BA in Sociology and Political Science, MA in Political Communication, and a Ph.D. in Community Work and Education from Tel-Aviv university. I published two books and multiple articles. I am a graduate of the 4th cohort of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, the 7th cohort of the Maoz National Leadership Program, the Encounter Program, and a board member of the IACS.

I am married with four children and live in Moshav Nahalal, in Northern Israel.

Maia Tchetchik Sharir
Head of Organization’s Success

I am passionate about building communities.

I bring two decades of experience building community in the US and Israel to my current role, where I spearhead Varda Institute’s efforts to build cultures of belonging in organizations globally, working closely with both our organizations and consultants.

I am an organizational consultant by profession, holding a private practice working primarily with the tech industry.

I hold an MBA, and I’m a certified group facilitator. I am a graduate of the “Gvanim” program for Israeli leaders living abroad and a co-founder of “Shivat Gvanim” (Gvanim return) program in Israel.

I have lived in Europe, Israel, and the US. During the time in the US, I served on the Oshman JCC Steering Committee and as a board member at Wornick Jewish Day School. I am the dreamer and founder of “Kol Banot,” a community-wide mother-daughter Bat Mitzvah Journey. I love the outdoors, planning new adventures, and just hanging out with family, friends, and my spoiled dog.

I’m excited to be able to share my passion for developing creative processes, bringing people together, forming and advancing resilient communities where every voice is seen and heard; where people feel they belong.

Michal Guttman
Head of Content Development and Knowledge Management

I believe in people’s power to improve our world and try to practice it in my personal and professional life. Born and raised in Jerusalem, I served for 13 years in executive positions in the Israeli public sector. Relocating to America 20 years ago, I searched for alternative paths for social impact while looking for a place to call my second home.
Since then, I have built communities and developed frameworks connecting Israelis and World Jewry.

I directed the G’vanim Leadership program at the OFJCC in Palo Alto, later expanding it nationally as Director of engagement at the IAC (Israeli American Council), leading the organization’s community-building strategy and strengthening Israeli – American communities in North America. I also co-found ‘Belong,’ a collective impact initiative aiming to deepen connections of Jews in Israel and worldwide.

Currently, I am fortunate to combine my passion for Jewish Peoplehood and Community Building in two roles, complementing one another in a strategic partnership:
At the ‘Varda institute’ as Head of Content Development, and with ‘Hakhel,’ the Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator, as Director of Programming, overseeing the strategy and the work with 140 communities worldwide.

I hold a BA in Political Science and MA in Public Policy and Management from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
I live with my family in NJ, spending weeks in Israel with our extended family, friends, and colleagues, enjoying everything both our homes can offer.

Asaf Reshef
Head of Planning and Operations

Hi, I am Asaf.
For many years I have been working in both the business and social worlds and aiming to combine them, driven by my belief that the social world needs professionalism, no less than the business world, to fulfill itself.

In the Israeli Association of Community Centers (IACC), I was the Director of entrepreneurship and innovation, creating technological spaces and solutions. As a senior support solution expert and support project manager at SAP, I also managed lab activities for the community. I served as a vice president of education for the Aharai! (Follow Me!) leadership development organization, and I am currently a staff member at Mandel Leadership Institute in the Mandel Youth leadership program.

I have seen and been part of many complex community processes. I understand how crucial it is to be professionally supported and guided in raising a sense of belonging, meaning, and commitment of all members and stakeholders to succeed. That is why I joined the Varda Institute team.

I hold a BA degree in Industrial Engineering (Information Technology) from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a MA degree in educational leadership from Oranim Academic College of Education.
I love to travel in Israel and the world. The first place I go to in any new city is the food market, where you can see everything.

Adi Aviv
Administration and Operations Coordinator

Hi, I’m Adi and I live in Jerusalem, Israel.
My BA is in Criminology and Islam and Middle Eastern Studies. I have learned the importance of community from my family’s many moves and travels around the world as part of my parents work for the Israeli consulate. A community, through work, a synagogue, the consulate and more, gave us a sense of home and security in places where the culture and language were initially foreign to us.
As part of Varda institutes team and community, I serve as the Administrative and Operations Coordinator, and am an email away for any question or inquiry, in effort to bring our dream of thriving communities everywhere.

In addition to this work, I try to bring out my inner self and self expression on paper or canvas, with watercolor, oil paints or any other medium I can get my hands on. The world has infinite details, each one is an inspiration, and I can’t wait to see and explore them all.

Tali Arnolf
VI Senior Consultant

I am Tali. I live with my family in Haniel, a moshav in the center of Israel.

I joined the Varda Institute a year ago, accompanying the senior management of the Edmond de Rothschild Center in establishing a sustainable alumni network for its art and design program. Alongside being a consultant on the Varda Institute team, leading Culture of Belonging processes, I lead the implementation of an innovative educational project called The Holistic Educational Space, part of the formal education system in the local Regional Council.
This project operates in approximately 50 schools nationwide. The program’s core goal is- connecting the dots- engaging people together so that every child will fulfill their potential.

In the past, I held senior management and coordination roles at Mechinot (The Joint Council of Pre-Military Leadership Academies). There, I led community-building initiatives, supported the young-adults leadership development program, and contributed to reducing socio-geographic gaps. 

I have guided multi-sectoral and nationwide projects for diverse populations, including disadvantaged youth, Ethiopians, girls and women, seniors, and more. Ever since my year of service at Rabin pre-military academy, I have been motivated to create social impact intending to promote a more united, egalitarian, and inclusive society in everything I do.

Esther Brownstein
VI Senior Consultant

I was born in Wales and grew up in Jerusalem. After completing my studies in sociology and anthropology, I volunteered for the Jewish social justice organization “Tevel” in Nepal and ended up spending over two years living and working there. I worked with local communities, practicing and researching participatory community development models in multi-cultural settings. It was a life-changing experience and inspired me to return to Israel to participate in the first cohort of the Glocal Community Development MA program at Hebrew University. Upon completion, I continued working in various international and local community-centered organizations in South East Asia, East Africa, and Central America.

After a decade of fascinating international work, I decided it was time to deepen my
involvement in the local social-community context back home in Israel. I joined Dr.
Sarale Shadmi designing and training teams in community building at the ICCA. 

Today I am an organizational consultant specializing in multi-cultural settings, creating and implementing participatory models across various sectors. I love meeting different people and listening to their stories. 

I live in Zichron Yaacov with my wife and son, adore the beach, and enjoy making fancy patisserie in my free time.

Tamar Ohana

Tamar Ohana
VI Senior Consultant

I am a community social worker and a union organizer. In recent years I have been working as the head of the transportation branch in the trade union ‘Koach LaOvdim’ (Power to the Workers), which is a democratic Workers’ Organization in Israel.

Communities in all their forms fascinate me, and my passion is to accompany communities and assist them in their strategic processes. I hold a BA in Community Social Work and Political Science and an MA in Non-profit Management; both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My thesis was about organizing female workers as a tool for social change.

In my free time, I coach community social work students, and together with women from around Jerusalem, I founded “Zaza – A Women’s Sports Community”, where I serve on the board.
I live in Jerusalem with my wife. When not being an activist, I love hiking and am a big fan of the Hapoel Jerusalem soccer team.

Na’ama Katz
VI Senior Consultant

I am Naama and I am from Jerusalem, Israel.
Being “a Jerusalemite” is an important part of my identity and guides my professional choices. I studied public policy (MA) and seeing as at the time many young people my age were leaving Jerusalem, I became involved in young adult initiatives and projects, I wanted the city to become more attractive for people like me. 

I was appointed Director of the Students Union at the Hebrew University, and later coordinated a project that aimed to develop Jerusalem’s neighborhoods as a place that attracts young families.
During this time, I met Dr. Sara Shadmi. Dr. Shadmi who taught how to build community in the neighborhoods. I was amazed and inspired by the theory and applied the learnings to my work. Later, I managed a community center in a central Jerusalem neighborhood for 6 years. As a consultant at the Varda Institute, I continue to practice the community building principles and apply the framework. 

I enjoy leading processes with organizations from all over the world, seeing people come together and build community. I am a mother to 2 young lovely girls, who teach me new lessons every day, and a co-chair on the board of “15 Minutes – the public transportation users organization”.

Michal Gassner
VI Senior Consultant

Hi I am Michal.
In the last ten years, I’ve worked with different communities in Nepal, Haiti, Burundi, Zambia, and Israel. I was lucky to feel how a strong sense of community helps every attempt to change lives become more sustainable.

Through my work, I’ve experienced healing from loneliness and separation.
It inspires me to belong to a community with my family and continue this healing work through healthy togetherness. I am also a DJ, screenwriter and director.

Ayala Wohl
VI Senior Consultant

I am a community social worker, organizational consultant, and social entrepreneur. I combine my work in the field with academic work: Lecturing in the Department for Non-profit Management and coordinating the practical training in the Department of Community Social Work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lecturing at the School of Education at the College of Management. 

I am also a Doctoral student at the University of Haifa researching attachment to a place and community. I am the founder of the Time Bank program in Israel and the Community Gardens and placemaking in Jerusalem. 

Some of my past roles include being a supervisor of community administrations in the Jerusalem Municipality and a district supervisor for community building in the Israel Community Centers Association. 

I am an activist and an entrepreneur in the community field (establishing a neighborhood school, etc.). Currently, I am managing a welfare services program in 6 mixed Arab – Jewish cities (Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Lod, Ramla, and Acre) on behalf of the Ministry of Welfare. I live in Jerusalem with my dear husband, three cute children, and a dog. 

I often dream of exercising and developing hobbies.