From as early as I can remember, my parents instilled in me the Jewish concept of b’tzelem Elohim - the idea that every human life is sacred. This truth is what motivates me to fight for justice for all communities.
As I grew up, I learned more about my ancestors' history. Through family letters more than a century old, I read about the hatred and violence they faced. As young children, my great-grandmother Jennie would flee town with her siblings twice a year on Easter and Christmas to escape pogroms, violent massacres, of entire Jewish communities. My great-great-grandmother would tell them to hide in different fields, so that if one was found others might survive. I discovered that only a few years after Jennie fled her hometown, every Jew was exiled and the Jewish homes in their village were burned to the ground in 1914.
My family tree was only preserved because one branch fled to America and another to Palestine. Three decades later, everyone who stayed in Europe was murdered in the Holocaust. As I look at the lopsided family tree hanging in my parent's home, I imagine whole branches of ancestors I'll never have the chance to honor and cousins I'll never get to meet. And from a young age, I also learned that so many other peoples have had their trees uprooted and whole branches of loved ones severed by violence.
I've seen how unprocessed fear, alienation, and self-hatred can lead people into binary and dehumanizing frameworks. I've seen how human connection and solidarity can transform societies. So many features of our culture condition us to be apathetic or angry, deepening our wounds. We regularly confront systems that perpetuate pain rather than foster healing, accountability, and restorative justice.
This is why I've committed my life force - my life's work - to repairing our connections with each other and ourselves.
As a speaker and consultant, I've trained thousands of leaders across North America on topics related to antisemitism, polarization, community organizing, storytelling, healthy masculinity, Israel-Palestine, interfaith relations, psychological safety, workplace culture, and conflict resolution.
This is what calls me to act with unconditional solidarity, unwavering grace, and unbearable compassion.
Zachary Schaffer has dedicated his career to empowering people to nurture compassion and communicate across tremendous differences.
Zach is a facilitator, educator, and organizer based in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. He brings a depolarization framework and a lens of unbearable compassion to all of his work. He has led workshops in more than 30 states for thousands of leaders over the past decade. He's briefed elected officials in the United States, Canada, and Israel; led trainings on antisemitism for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights; and has spoken at dozens of college campuses, conferences, and religious institutions. He speaks on a range of topics such as community organizing, allyship, advocacy, storytelling, healthy masculinity, antisemitism, Israel-Palestine, psychological safety, workplace culture, polarization, and conflict resolution.
He currently serves as the Co-Founder and VP of Community Engagement with Project Shema, a training and support organization built by progressives to help our Jewish community challenge anti-Jewish ideas and nurture compassion for Jews on the progressive left.
Before this, he was the first full-time Executive Director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents where he and his team worked to train and platform young, diverse lay leaders in Jewish nonprofit boardrooms.
Zach has served as a facilitator and consultant with a number of organizations. He is a trainer with Ta'amod where he supports organizations in creating safe, respectful, and equitable workplaces grounded in Jewish values. As the Men as Allies Consultant with Jewish Women International (JWI), he helped develop a training series on healthy masculinity and male allyship. Zach is also a facilitator with Resetting the Table, where he supports transformative communication across political divides in the United States. He is also a passionate advocate for eliminating barriers to research into the therapeutic, psycho-spiritual, and emotional healing power of psychedelics.
He is the proud President of Friends of Roots, a grassroots coexistence and liberation movement of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. He also serves on the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, and co-chairs their Racial Equity Diversity & Inclusion Committee. As a member of the Commission on Social Action, he helps to set the social justice and legislative agenda of the Reform movement and the Religious Action Center, which mobilizes nearly two million Jews on socioeconomic issues including gun violence prevention, immigration, reproductive rights, and criminal justice reform.
He received an MS in Nonprofit Management at Gratz College and his undergraduate degree in Rhetoric and Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys live music, dried mango, and riding his motorcycle.