Bend the Arc Leader Stosh Cotler Has Radical Streak — and Black Belt

Tattoo and Black Attire Sets Activist Apart

Old and New: Incoming leader of Bend the Arc Stosh Cotler and departing CEO Alan van Capelle.
bend the arc
Old and New: Incoming leader of Bend the Arc Stosh Cotler and departing CEO Alan van Capelle.

By Julie Wiener

Published January 10, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — When Stosh Cotler takes over as CEO of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that fights for immigration reform, workers’ rights and other domestic liberal causes, she will be one of the few women leading a national Jewish group of its size.

But Cotler’s gender is not the only thing that sets her apart.

It’s not just that she only connected with Judaism as an adult or that her appearance during an interview in her Manhattan office — all-black clothes, dark red lipstick, pale blue fingernail polish and a visible tattoo on her arm — is more Goth than corporate. How many Jewish communal CEOs have a black belt in kung fu, trained women in self-defense, danced at a sex club or protested Israel’s treatment of Palestinians during the second intifada?

The 45-year-old Olympia, Wash., native declined to discuss her past or present views on Israel, which she said are not relevant to her work at Bend the Arc. But she describes her unconventional background as an advantage in reaching out to Jews on the margins of the community.

“If we are successful in reaching more Jews who have little or no or an ambivalent connection to being Jewish, if they come to us, we will be transformed because of that infusion of very different perspectives,” Cotler said.

Bend the Arc was formed from the 2011 merger of the New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and the West Coast-based Progressive Jewish Alliance. It has billed itself as “the nation’s leading progressive Jewish voice solely dedicated to mobilizing Jewish Americans to advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable.” In addition to its policy advocacy, Bend the Arc collects funds for community investing in disadvantaged areas, makes grants to grassroots activist groups and conducts leadership training. The organization had a budget of $5.7 million last year.

Cotler has been with the organization since 2005, for the past three years serving as its executive vice president. She is replacing Alan van Capelle, who spent two years at Bend the Arc’s helm and is leaving to become CEO of the Educational Alliance, a venerable Jewish institution on New York’s Lower East Side.

Cotler’s colleagues at Bend the Arc and liberal Jewish groups give her high marks for her strategic planning skills and collaborative approach. She has led Bend the Arc’s Selah Leadership Program, which has trained more than 300 Jewish activists working for a mix of Jewish and secular organizations.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • 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.