Dinner With a Scholar




The annual Dinner With a Scholar event is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together for intellectual stimulation, enrichment, and, of course, delicious meals! It is also our chance to renew our collective commitment to Jewish education and transformational experiences for our entire Jewish community.

Two nights and four speakers in private homes. All proceeds support Jewish education through the Merage JCC's Center for Jewish Life.



Saturday, February 3 at 7:00 p.m. 

Professor Jeffrey Kopstein

Intimate Violence: Anti-Jewish Pogroms in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Jeffrey Kopstein is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, currently teaching courses on Politics Around the World, and Dictatorship & Democracy.

Before coming to Irvine in 2015, Professor Kopstein was on the faculty of University of Toronto. In addition to teaching political science courses, he served as the Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at University of Toronto. Prior to that, he spent 11 years at University of Colorado at Boulder and a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government, Dartmouth College.

Professor Kopstein earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. Fluent in several languages, including German and Russian, he has authored four books and close to 40 articles in academic journals and anthologies. 

In his research, Professor Kopstein focuses on inter-ethnic violence, voting patterns of minority groups, and anti-liberal tendencies in civil society, paying special attention to cases within European and Russian Jewish history. These interests are central topics in his new book with Jason Wittenberg, Intimate Violence: Anti-Jewish Pogroms in the Shadow of the Holocaust. 

Hosted by Brigitte and Craig Frankel

Yair Vardi

Co-Founder, Fusion LA – Accelerator for Israeli Start Ups

Yair Vardi is the founding partner of Fusion LA, the first start-up accelerator for Israeli companies in Los Angeles, which helps Israeli companies gain traction, raise capital, and work with industry leaders. 

Prior to co-founding Fusion LA, Yair was the Director for Academic Affairs and the Advisor for Innovation at the Consulate General of Israel to Southwest United States. While serving at the consulate in Los Angeles, Yair oversaw initiatives aimed at expanding institutional cooperation between Israel’s universities and their counterparts in the U.S. He developed conferences designed to deepen U.S.-Israel collaboration in technology and innovation, including Cybertech Beverly Hills. 

Yair completed his service in the Israel Defense Forces as a captain in Unit 8200 (the Israeli equivalent of National Security Agency), where he received numerous citations of excellence for his work. After his military service, Yair studied economics and political science at Tel Aviv University and later was selected to serve as the Jewish Agency’s Israel Fellow at UCLA’s Hillel. While at UCLA, Yair completed coursework in Entrepreneurship and Business Studies. Currently, Yair lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé, Danielle Tal. 

Hosted by Aviva and Fred Forster


Saturday, February 10 at 7:00 p.m. 

Commander Mary Katey Hays

Commanding Officer, USS Decatur

Mary Katey Hays grew up in Tampa, Florida and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999. In 2016 she became the first Jewish woman to assume command of the USS Decatur, a guided-missile destroyer based in San Diego.

Her previous sea duty assignments include Engineer Officer on USS Carney and USS Antietam, and Navigator and Damage Control Assistant on USS Milius. She also served as the Third Fleet Scheduler and as Congressional Liaison in the Surface Warfare Division of the Office of Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV). She completed an Individual Augmentation assignment with Seal Team One, deploying to Iraq as the Civil Affairs Team Officer in Charge.

Commander Hays holds an M.A. degree in National Security Affairs with a subspecialty in the Middle East from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and graduated from the Defense Language Institute with a certification in Modern Standard Arabic.

In 2007, Commander Hays was awarded the Bronze Star for her actions in Anbar Province. When insurgents fired on a school her team was visiting, Hays and her team rushed the children to safety, then returned fire, eventually defeating the insurgents. She also earned two Meritorious Service Medals, four Navy Commendation Medals, and two Navy Achievement Medals.

Hosted by Yael and Eyal Aronoff

Yotam Polizer

Co-CEO, IsraAID, Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid

Yotam Polizer is the co-director of IsraAID – Israel’s biggest humanitarian NGO. He began his social activism at a young age – rehabilitating juvenile delinquents, advocating for special needs children, and developing economic leadership among the Bedouin population. Today, Yotam is at the leading edge of global humanitarian aid. 

In 2007, Yotam joined Tevel B’Tzedek, an Israeli non-profit doing development in Nepal. During his three years there, he also served as Consular Assistant at the Israeli Embassy. He joined IsraAID following the 2011 tsunami in Japan, where he created mental health education programs for survivors. Yotam worked in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and in South Korea supporting integration of North Korean defectors.

During the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, he led IsraAID’s humanitarian mission in Lesbos, Greece, supporting Syrian refugees. He also established IsraAID Germany,  providing long-term support for Yazidi and Syrian refugees in Germany. He returned to Nepal after the 2015 earthquake to lead relief efforts, and later went to Sierra Leone to aid Ebola survivors, health workers, and affected communities.

For 15 years, IsraAID has helped millions of people move from destruction to reconstruction, and eventually, to sustainable living.

Hosted by Adrienne and Rick Matros


 Register here


Thank you to our sponsors:

Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein
Nancy and Irv Chase
Stephen and Robin Einstein
Roberta Feuerstein
Cindy and Michael Furst
Susan and Milt Legome
Marty and Doris Melnick
Harry and Tracy Pellman
Miki and Steve Sholkoff
Sue and Ralph Stern
Dana and Mark Susson
Roz and Elliot Vogelfanger
Sheila and Jay Witzling


Thank you to our committee:

Nancy Chase • Jada Robitaille •  Dana Susson • Jay Witzling


Thank you to our hosts:

Karen and Steve Jaffe • Brigitte and Craig Frankel • Aviva and Fred Forster • Yael and Eyal Aronoff • Adrienne and Rick Matros



Sponsorship opportunities available:  $500 / $1000 / $1800.