Sara Wasserteil, 31, a Portland native, has been named to the fifth annual “Double Chai in the Chi: 36 Under 36” list of young Jewish movers and shakers in Chicago. Presented by JUF’s Young Leadership Division and Oy!Chicago – an outreach website for Chicago 20- and 30-somethings – the list shines a spotlight on the faces of Chicago’s Jewish future and recognizes the amazing contributions of this generation. The young professionals featured are noted for making a difference through their work, giving back in their free time, and earning distinction in the Jewish community and beyond.
Sara is the daughter of Howard and Vivian Wasserteil, who now live in Kirkland, WA, where her dad is the director of administration for Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue. Sara became a bat mitzvah at Congregation Neveh Shalom. A graduate of Beaverton High School, she was very involved in BBYO and served on the regional board for two years. She was a camper and later a counselor at B’nai B’rith Camp for six years.
“It’s truly amazing that this marks our fifth year of this initiative — and that in that time we have honored and gotten to know 180 of this community’s innovative young leaders,” says Stefanie Pervos Bregman, co-founding editor of Oy!Chicago. “As always, this year’s list confirms for us that the future of Chicago’s Jewish community is incredibly bright.”
Sara has devoted herself to the most vulnerable communities in Chicago and the world. After spending much of her 20s abroad assisting refugees in Zambia and the Congo, helping agricultural and the private sectors in Nigeria, and working on other civic projects in Ghana and Kenya, she brought that dedication to Chicago, where she consults on civic impact initiatives that improve lives. She has developed strategies for organizations to help keep at-risk youth in school, built a roadmap for the Cook County Public Defender to get people awaiting trial with mental health or substance abuse issues out of jail and into treatment, and much more.
Sara also has a habit of teaching and mentoring everywhere she goes, including about Judaism. In Africa, she brought Jewish holidays to her communities; in Chicago, Sara is a consultant with the Civic Consulting Alliance.
“I love growing people, so I am currently mentoring five graduate students interested in pursuing international development careers and serve as the founding director for the Practitioner’s Council at the Center for Policy Entrepreneurship, which enables me to connect students to civic-minded leaders,” says Sara. The program is through the Harris School of Public Policy.
“I like to teach people of different backgrounds about Judaism,” adds Sara. “When I lived in Ghana, I led a seder to teach my community about Jewish traditions; while in Zambia, I led a Hanukkah celebration for my neighbors. Now that I’m in Chicago, I started integrating family history into holiday celebrations to help family and friends connect their own histories to Jewish stories and traditions.”