Rabbi Doron Lazarus was born and raised in San Diego, CA and attended UCLA where he graduated with a BSc in Psychobiology. He spent the next 8 years in full time Jewish studies in Israel and received his Rabbinic Ordination from the Head the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. In addition, he completed the Ner LeElef Jewish Educators Certification. He met his wife, Trudy, in Jerusalem. Trudy hails from Luton England and had completed her BSc in Sports Rehab from Salford University in Manchester before moving to Israel. Trudy worked for 3 years in Israel as the Follow Up Director for Meor International and ended up completing her Masters Degree in Speech Therapy from the University of Cincinnati. In 2013, together they moved to Saint Louis, where they founded the JLE, a campus based Jewish program based at Washington University. In 2018, they moved in Chicago to join the J-Life team and work with Russian young professionals. Rabbi Lazarus is the author of two books, his first on Medical Ethics and his second on Jewish Mindfulness. With their 5 children, they love hosting students, teaching, and traveling with the J-Life participants.
Avigail Bass was born in the Ukraine and moved to the US when she was 3. She studied International Relations and Diplomacy at Domincan University and after graduation, attended EYAHT Jewish College for Women. She has been working for Jewish nonprofits for over 10 years and is critical to many J-Life day to day operations. Everything from program logistics, database management, and her delicious lasagna which frequents J-Life events, Avigail helps make it happen!
She lived in West Roger Park with her husband and two children.
Jennyand Yonason Serle
Director of Women's Programming
Hailing from the Chicago suburbs, Jenny Serle completed a year of advanced post-high school Jewish studies in Israel and returned to the US. Upon getting married, she started her career of teaching and inspiring others to connect with Judaism, serving for 7 years as the director of the Buffalo Grove division of NCSY. While continuing her work with Jewish teens and young professionals, Jenny earned her MA from Northwestern University in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Jenny has been involved in J-Life since its inception and currently serves as the Director of Women's Programming, where she teaches young women and brides-to-be about the timeless relevance of Jewish wisdom for their lives and relationships.
Yonason grew up in Milwaukee where he spent much of his time playing sports and his acoustic guitar. After getting married,Yonason started his career in software engineering that took him through startups and Fortune 500's, eventually leading to the founding of his own web and mobile development firm. As an entrepreneur with a passion for Torah study, Yonason loves connecting with J-Life students and showing them how the time-honored lessons of the Torah have so much meaning and relevance in today's world.
Max and Irina Stessel
Founding Directors of J-Life
Max was born in Kiev and moved to Chicago with his family when he was 14. He was always interested in Jewish history and active in pro-Israeli causes. Max has an MBA from the University of Chicago and is Principal of Pritok Capital, a private equity group. Since his college years, Max has been involved in various organizations and initiatives focused on developing stronger Jewish identity among Chicago's Russian Jews. Max founded J-Life in 2005.
Irina was born in Kiev and came to Chicago when she was 12. While being a Hillel President in Loyola Irina realized the importance of teaching Jewish history and traditions to Russian Jews and organized first classes by Chicago's leading outreach Rabbis at Loyola University. Irina is also an experienced matchmaker on sawyouatstsinai.com
She and her husband Max were intimately involved in the early stages of developing Heritage Synagogue for Russian Jews. In addition to hosting Jlife students for Shabbat meals, Irina coordiantes many logistical aspects of J-life’s operations.
Daniel and Anya Alkhovsky
Daniel is the Director of the DEEP (Developing Excellence in Educational Practice) High School District of the Chicago Jewish community schools. Dan holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin Madison in Secondary Education and Mathematics, and is pursuing a Masters in Educational Leadership.
Anya is a Senior Web Designer for the Interactive Marketing division of NMMA (National Marine Manufacturing Association), with a BFA from UIC. Anya loves travelling with the J-life participants and has staffed six trips so far! The Alkhovskys have been dedicated J-Life volunteers from its very inception. They are always ready to assist J-life’s efforts, whether it be travelling to Israel to help lead a trip, or hosting Shabbat and holiday meals in their warm and open home.