Cincinnati 2020 in 2016: Michelle Kohn

Each installment in this series features a different perspective on Cincinnati 2020, the Jewish community’s visionary plan for building an exceptional future. This week, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s President, Tedd Friedman, interviews Michelle Kohn, Global Director for Israel at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Executive Board Member of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and President of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

How did you first get involved in, or hear about Cincinnati 2020? What is your role now?

Very early on, I participated in small focus groups to help brainstorm priority areas for Cincinnati 2020, especially around how the Jewish community in Cincinnati could create meaningful connections to fellow Jews around the globe—such as in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.


What does the future of the Israel Exchange Program at Children’s—and our community’s connection to Israel—look like through the lens of Cincinnati 2020? 

Cincinnati Children’s mission is to improve child health and transform delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education, and innovation. As part of this mission, the Israel Exchange Program works to improve clinical care and advance scientific research and technological breakthroughs by fostering the exchange of knowledge and expertise between Cincinnati Children’s and world-class medical, academic, and research institutions in Israel. The Israel Exchange Program at Cincinnati Children’s has been made possible thanks to the generous support of many donors in our city. Their investments have helped achieve over 20 research and clinical collaborations with faculty at leading Israeli medical centers and universities, 4 medical device projects designed by Cincinnati Children’s surgeons and Israeli engineers, training of over 20 fellows, 24 medical students, 50 short-term observers from Israel, and 100 Israeli children treated by Cincinnati Children’s surgeons in Cincinnati and Israel. Thanks to transformative donations by David and Nancy Wolf and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the Israel Exchange Program has established grant programs that enable the recruitment and support of top talent from Israel for clinical and research training. Through the lens of Cincinnati 2020, our community is providing valuable support to Israeli families as they relocate to Cincinnati for 1 to 3 years during their training at the medical center. This means an opportunity for Cincinnatians to have Israeli friends and neighbors of all ages without ever getting on a plane and it also means that they will forever have friends in Israel when the trainees return home. Many families at Rockwern Academy have already experienced the benefit of their children having Israeli friends in their classes or children of past fellows they’ve visited on Israel trips. We are also deeply grateful for the volunteer efforts led by Bonnie Ullner, Julia Weinstein, and the many Jewish community members who have opened their homes to give a warm welcome to Israeli visitors in Cincinnati.


Why should Cincinnati 2020 be important to the community? Why should it be important to Israelis living in Cincinnati, and to their Cincinnati neighbors? 

Cincinnati families are fortunate that we live in a Jewish community that is actively bringing its members together around 2020’s shared values of ensuring quality of life for all, enabling meaningful Jewish connections (including those with Israelis and with Israel), and strengthening congregations and agencies.  When we think of meaningful connections for Cincinnatians to Israel, I can’t think of anything more impactful than having Israelis living in Cincinnati, as neighbors and friends. This opportunity for Israelis to share firsthand their life experiences and rich culture with Cincinnatians in their home environment is a gift, not to mention how delicious sharing a home-cooked Israeli meal is! For Israelis living in Cincinnati, understanding how American Jews relate to Israel, what unites and separates us, and the diverse opportunities we have in America to connect to Jewish life is equally important to foster connections between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.


Has Cincinnati 2020 been successful so far? How do you measure its successes, in terms of the Israel Exchange Program and new Israel connections that have been forged as a result?

I think Cincinnati 2020 has been very successful, seeing how many agencies and congregations in the community are working together toward a common vision. I think the recent 2016 Cincinnati Congregation and Community Israel Mission and the resulting enthusiasm about connecting to Israel are measures of its success. In terms of the Israel Exchange Program, I was privileged to attend a Jewish Federation event that featured three Israeli physicians training at Children’s telling their personal stories to mission participants, about practicing medicine among diverse populations both in Israel and in Cincinnati. Woven into their stories were examples of beautiful connections between them and patients and colleagues from diverse backgrounds such as Haredi Jews, Muslim, Christian, and Sudanese refugees, and how the practice of medicine broke through any previous barriers. 


Do you have an interesting anecdote you could share about your experience with Cincinnati 2020 as it relates to building connections with Israel?

A few years ago, I was approached by a past Israeli emissary, Ortal Taman, who had volunteered in Cincinnati Jewish agencies through the Federation’s Chaverim M’Israel (Friends From Israel) Program after high school and lived with several host families. Years later, she went on to become an MD/PhD student at Ben Gurion University and heard about the hospital’s Israel Exchange Program. Because of her academic achievements, she was invited to participate in a medical student rotation and went on to participate in a research study between faculty at Cincinnati Children’s and Ben Gurion University to examine the genetics of preterm birth, focusing on the Bedouin population in the Negev Region of Israel. It was through Cincinnati 2020-inspired programs that I first met Ortal, but through the Israel Exchange Program, I’ve been fortunate to witness her deep and growing connection to Cincinnati. I think she is an ambassador of the meaningful Israel connections Cincinnati 2020 aims to achieve.


What do you hope the community accomplishes through Cincinnati 2020 in the next 5 years, both in terms of building and strengthening connections with Israel, and otherwise?

I hope that through Cincinnati 2020, the Jewish community of Cincinnati continues to unite its members around a shared vision and values, and that we work collectively to make this community a warm and engaging place to raise our families. In terms of connection to Israel, I hope that the influx of Israelis moving to Cincinnati as a result of the growing business partnerships in our region will be an opportunity to further strengthen our community’s connection to Israel.


The Jewish Federation is always looking for Cincinnati families interested in hosting our Israeli families for Shabbat dinners and holidays. For those who just returned from the Congregation and Community mission—it’s a great way to pay it forward! Contact the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Director of Community Building, Barb Miller, at, if you’re interested.


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