New Chief for West Coast Activist Group

By Rebecca Spence

Published February 05, 2009, issue of February 13, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Los Angeles — The West Coast’s leading Jewish social justice organization has named a former corporate litigator turned legal activist for the poor as its new executive director.

Elissa Barrett, a 38-year-old attorney, will take the helm of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the group announced February 2.

Barrett, a University of Michigan Law School graduate, worked as an international human rights lawyer in Israel and South Africa before becoming a corporate litigator in Los Angeles. In 2002, she left Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP to work for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, an organization that provides legal representation to low-income L.A. residents. There, she fought against slum housing and worked to pass legislation for safe, affordable housing for the poor, disabled and elderly.

In 2007, Barrett became the organization’s founding pro bono director, placing pro bono legal cases with corporate attorneys. That same year, she launched the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, which helps survivors claim monies from a new reparation fund in Germany.

The executive director slot at PJA has been vacant since last summer, when Daniel Sokatch, who greatly expanded the group’s membership and influence during an eight-year tenure, left to become CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco. Sokatch grew PJA’s membership to 4,000 from a mere 250, with offices in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

At a time when many Jewish organizations are struggling to keep afloat, Barrett said that PJA — with an annual budget of $1.3 million — is financially secure and positioned for a national expansion. “We are exploring the possibility of an East Coast office and the opportunity to work in strategic alliance with other leaders in the Jewish social justice movement,” she said. “My priority as executive director is to consolidate our growth in California and to move ambitiously and aggressively toward exploring planned national growth.”

Barrett, a longtime PJA board member, is also a lay leader at Beth Chayim Chadashim, L.A.’s oldest gay and lesbian synagogue. She will start work at PJA on March 16.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.