Skip To Main Content
Walworth Barbour American International School In Israel School Logo
Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel Logo
Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel Logo

Alumni around the world

"We found a home in this school because we found a home in each other... when we move on,  the core of AIS will remain. For we leave here knowing love, knowing home." fiona whalen 2015 Valedictorian
Britta Ellwanger, Graduate Student in the Ukraine, Class of 2009

Britta Ellwanger has been deeply involved in aiding Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war in Ukraine as a forPEACE Ukrainian Relief Project Manager. In this interview, Britta shares some of her AIS experiences, and then talks about her work in the Ukraine.

"AIS influenced me as a person even more than as a student.  My four years in high school at AIS were a formative time for me. I look back on my high school phase of life with fondness and gratitude… Re diversity, the bubble I lived in before moving to AIS certainly popped within months of being at AIS and I am grateful to my peers and teachers for that. I learned and became aware of the world and our place in it in a different and personally meaningful way because of the community at AIS. 

Friends from high school joke about how a majority of AIS graduates go into political science or international relations. I certainly reflected that trend. Originally I had a regional focus on the Middle East and worked for two prominent Middle East correspondents, Robin Wright and Rajiv Chandrasekaran. This is all because of the influence my four years at AIS had on me.  Switching to Eastern Europe in my junior year of undergrad and graduate school and beyond was the result of serving an ecclesiastical mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Ukraine. 

I had previously begun a regional studies Ukraine focused masters program in the United States and felt stuck by how separate I felt my program was from Ukrainians and Ukraine. So I decided to move and study in Ukraine to fix that. I wanted to study amongst Ukrainian academics and practitioners. I wanted to be better integrated within a Ukrainian based network of activists and analysts. 

I was/am a masters student at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy in their Anti-Corruption Studies Program. Since February 24 when Russia escalated its eight year war in Ukraine, my university program was indefinitely paused. 

We asked Britta: What message would you like to offer the AIS community regarding the crisis in Ukraine for us to better understand the reality of the situation and how best to help?

I only have a question. What does Never Again mean? 

In Israel, a great place to begin is the Israeli Friends of Ukraine. They offer both a way to support humanitarian relief as well as create a local community of mobilized activists engaging with politicians and working to influence Israeli-Ukrainian policies. Ukrainians do need a lot of humanitarian aid right now. There are shortages everywhere. But Ukrainians don't just need loving helpers. They need allies. Advocate within your local political sphere for policies that aid Ukraine alongside collecting whatever humanitarian aid you desire or donating to whatever organization you believe in.

Bayan Joonam, Executive Producer in L.A., Class of 2006

LinkedIn says about Bayan that he is “an award-winning producer highly regarded for aligning with mission-driven start-ups, brands, celebrities, and nonprofits to generate unique, engaging programming.”  He was in profiled in Ha’aretz in 2021 after his celebrated 3 part series QAnon: The Search for Q was shown on VICE Media.

We reached out to Bayan to find out more about his journey from WBAIS (when he was at the Bahai Center in Haifa with his family) to his remarkable achievement in the world of media today.  Below are excerpts from the interview with Bayan Joonam::

'I was at WBAIS from around 5th - 10th grade so I got to experience the Elementary, Middle, and High School program. I credit the Art Department, specifically the darkroom of WBAIS to my falling in love with photography. I also participated in after school programs like basketball, baseball, Model United Nations, and others…

[Among other special memories I have from the school], when I reflect on the incredible tradition of the hockey marathon -- most people don’t believe me. I think it’s such a great detail that serves as a reflection of how incredible WBAIS is. 

This is a micro-example of a macro fact which took me longer to appreciate. We were exposed to so many different cultures, customs, and traditions which was equally as educational as what we learned in the classroom. Compounded on that baseline WERE the teachers and curriculum which I think helped to create more multifaceted, globally minded people.”

When asked how and why he became a documentary filmmaker, he said:

After my bus stop [in Israel] was attacked by a suicide bomber, it galvanized my commitment to pursuing work that addresses ideological divides.

“I think when you’re starting out in a business that is as unstructured as the film industry, it’s important to be relentless in pursuing every opportunity that you’re passionate about. The faster you can get over the idea that there is some silver bullet or short cut to get around doing the work -- the faster you’ll start becoming good at it. It’s kind of like skateboarding (which I did a lot when I was in Israel). You may try a trick 100 times before you land it, but you have to take every opportunity to do it over and over before being successful at it. A lot of my peers felt they wanted to go straight into feature films or something like that. I did a whole lot of short form (under 10m) before even trying to make longer stuff. 

After college I spent a few years freelancing until eventually I partnered with Rainn Wilson (who played Dwight Schrute on the office) to build SoulPancake on Youtube. As a Partner and Head of Production for SoulPancake between 2011 - 2018, I led the development, production, and programming of 50 original series which led to over a billion views online, award-winning television franchises, and an acquisition by Participant Media

In 2018, I developed a slate of TV and Film projects for Scheme Engine (a division of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation), including Producing MTV's "16 & Recovering" series. Following that, I became the Creator and Host of QAnon: The Search for Q on ViceTV which examines the who, what, and why behind Q. “

He said that he hopes to revisit Israel and has stayed in touch with many people from WBAIS.  "They are some of the most meaningful relationships I continue to have as we grow older with families, careers, and all that."  

Finally, his advice for students who are graduating today:

  • "1. Don't be scared to ask questions. Curiosity is at the heart of all great innovation. 
  • 2. Spend as much time offline as you do online.
  • 3. Not everything you think is worth tweeting.
  • 4. Nothing great comes from staying in your comfort zone."
Agata Zielenska, Historian in London, Class of 2012

Agata is a historian of the middle ages, with a particular interest in religious institutions and the ways in which they interacted with their lay counterparts, as explored in her doctoral thesis on the relationship between the Papacy and Poland. Her goals as a historian are to encourage students and readers to question the historical narratives that are often taken for granted. History is a powerful tool that easily taps into people’s emotions and can be used to shape and reshape memory, identity, ideology, politics. Often, the assumption is that historians learn the dates, events, and protagonists of the past, and thus uncover ‘history’ – a linear chain of events leading to the present. This is simply not true. The histories we read are products of time, place, and individual circumstances – whether for better or worse. In her teaching practice, Agata foregrounds the need to critically engage with the sources, secondary literature, and contemporary societal attitudes to evaluate how and why histories are written and presented. This way, students and readers learn to actively think about the significance of the evidence and argumentation used, and conscious of the authors’ goals. At a time when increasing weight is given to the role that AI and Big Data can play in our lives, and with vast amounts of information instantaneously available, the ability to critically evaluate what we are presented with and its significance and use is crucial in ensuring a transparent and functional society.

 

Michael Matias, Entrepeneur in Silicon Valley, Class of 2014

Michael Matias is an engineer and enthusiastic entrepreneur, deeply motivated by people and products that make a positive impact on the world. He is a Senior Associate at J-Ventures (early stage Venture Capital fund in Silicon Valley) and a Software Engineer at Hippo Insurance (unicorn) while studying Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University. He graduated first in class from the IDF Officers Course, and served as an engineer and an officer in the 8200 Cybersecurity Unit, where he developed novel technologies and was recognized with the 2019 Cyber Excellence Award. Michael is featured in Forbes `30 Under 30` and Forbes `18 Under 18`, TEDx speaker, Birthright Excel alumni, founder of Hacking Generation Y and AnyMeal and founding host of the `20 Minute Leaders` tech entrepreneurs series with over 300 episodes. He is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur

 
Sonia Gerschenfeld, UX Research Designer in Montreal, Class of 2006

Sonia has two passions in life: design and music (though only one of these allows her to afford food and rent). As you may have guessed...it’s design!

For the past few years, she has been working as a User Experience Designer for WarnerMedia Latin America (designing apps & the brand digital experience). Prior to this she worked as an Art Director for Cartoon Network Latin America for six years. In both these positions she worked hard with the brands for LGBT and Diversity representation in media and to open conversations with kids in Latin American countries. In the future she hopes to get into the design of smart cities and applying technology to make urban design more sustainable.

In her free time she enjoys wandering around looking at the architecture, playing music, reading and most importantly, spending time with her loved ones and enjoying life.

Paulo Elias Moraes, Brazilian Diplomat in Geneva, Class of 1989

I stepped out of WBAIS campus just over 30 years ago. I can still remember and feel those that were close then, although by now we have gone our own ways. During my period at WBAIS my years of training to become a professional tennis player reached an end and I began a search for new meaning. I started my university studies at Columbia College/Columbia University but returned to Brazil where I obtained a degree in Law at Pontifícia Universidade Católica (Rio de Janeiro).  After my undergraduate studies, I entered the Brazilian diplomatic academy and joined the foreign service where I have specialized in international trade and finance policy. Diplomacy involves engaging with others in constant dialogue directed towards efficient, sustainable problem-solving.  The practice of diplomacy requires thinking about national interests and shaping them, in an inclusive and policy-making way, in the language of international law. Flexibility, intellectual suppleness and a sincere interest in others are common traits of diplomats.  A career in diplomacy has meant working overseas (London, Moscow, Tokyo and now Geneva) for significant periods. I met my wife in Moscow and we have three wonderful boys, ages 6, 3 and 1. Parenthood came somewhat late for me. Here is a moment we turn our focus to others...and discover ourselves. Reconnecting with WBAIS is an invitation to muse over the choices and directions of life and brings back warm memories of old friends and peers.