Leadership Responsibilities Biographies


Research Division Director
Phyllis Gold Berenson

Operations Director
Stefani Elkort Twyford

Data Acquisition Director
Gary Pokrassa

Information Systems Director
Ariel Parkansky

Towns Director
Karen Steinfeld

Advisory Council
Lara Diamond

Advisory Council
Hal Bookbinder

Advisory Council
Joel Spector

Advisory Council
Paul Finelt

Advisory Council
Gil Bardige

Advisory Council
Chuck Weinstein


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Leadership Responsibilities

Research Division Director

  1. General coordination of Ukraine Research Division.
  2. Communicate with Board members regarding their areas of responsibility; respond to their questions; planning; approve actions.
  3. Coordinate and oversee the identification of new records from websites, archives and repositories.
  4. Upload more than 100,000 transcribed records to JewishGen website database monthly.
  5. Communicate weekly with transcription group; assign priorities for transcription; raise issues; respond to their questions.
  6. Receive emails from individual researchers re multiple issues; respond; follow up if needed.
  7. Receive notice of donations; keep records.
  8. Regular communication with JewishGen Executive Director to keep him aware of Ukraine activities; discuss JewishGen search issues which affect Ukraine RD.

Operations Director

  1. Collaborates closely with and advises RD Director in multiple areas.
  2. Oversees dissemination of news and updates within Ukraine Research Group.
  3. Distributes announcements and updates to diverse platforms such as JewishGen newsletters, discussion lists, Ukraine website, and Facebook groups.
  4. Manages the Ukraine website revision and redesign.
  5. Coordinates discovery and acquisition of records from individuals and unusual sources.

Data Acquisition Director

  1. Review all sources for Jewish records of genealogical interest, including:
    a. Wiki pages maintained by Alex Krakovsky
    b.  Archival Wikis
    c.  Miscellaneous websites

  2. Evaluate; process; download from source; upload to JewishGen Ukraine Research Division server
  3. Manage multiple project control sheets
  4. Manage and supervise team of volunteers, all working towards goal of preserving records for research

Information Systems Director

  1. Define Information Systems and Data Structure Strategy
  2. Provide IS tools to support the projects and RD management
  3. Ensure that the the website is maintained up-to-date and in accordance with JewishGen guidelines
  4. Ensure the technology watch and the evolution of the website and the IS tools to keep them 'state-of-the-art'
  5. Provide reporting tools to the different Board members (project follow up, statistics...)

Towns Director

  1. Compile e-mail distribution lists of YB Translation Project Leaders, KehilaLinks owners, people who submit data to JOWBR
  2. Identify KehilaLink owners who are willing to provide a description of the data on their webpages
  3. Identify YB Translation Leaders who are willing to prepare name/town indexes for their YB translations
  4. Relay any queries, problems, or requests for assistance to the RD Coordinator
  5. Help RD Coordinator create a “Town Leader” system using a modified JRI-Poland model
  6. Create a list of towns within each district of each Guberniya
  7. Work with Town Leaders to compile info for each town for entry into JewishGen Gazeteer (unless an entry already exists)
  8. Compile a contact list of people who are interested in each town using JGFF and Discussion List postings.
  9. Enter/update town and related-town information on the DBM
  10. Provide work news to the Media and Communication Manager for the production of news/newsletter

Advisory Council

Consult with directors, as necessary, regarding policy and procedures of Ukraine Research Division.

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Leadership Biographies

Phyllis Gold Berenson, Research Division Director

Phyllis Gold Berenson has served as Ukraine RD Director since 2019, following ten years as a JewishGen volunteer and Ukraine Town Leader.  The number of Ukraine records posted on JewishGen has increased more than ten-fold during her tenure as Director.  

She serves as Town Leader for Mogilev-Podolsky and Shargorod.  As such, she managed the photography and indexing project for the 7,500 grave Mogilev-Podolsky cemetery and is working ona translation project of the 500-page Yiddish Shargorod Yizkor book.  She has traveled to Ukraine three times, and hopes to visit again after the war.

Phyllis was born in Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan in Russian language and literature. She obtained her law degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, followed by an LL.M (tax) degree. She lives in San Francisco and Sonoma.

She served as president of San Francisco Bay Area Women Tax Lawyers, Inner Sunset Park Neighbors, Symphony Parnassus, and on the Alumni Council of Interlochen Center for the Arts. 

Her checkered employment history includes social worker, bookstore owner, carpenter's assistant, professional musician, trust, estates and tax lawyer, as well as volunteer symphony orchestra manager.

Phyllis juggles her multiple duties as Ukraine Research Division Director while she dreams of retiring from her day job as a trust and estates lawyer. 

Stefani Elkort Twyford, Operations Director

Stefani served as the former President of the Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society and has been an active volunteer with JewishGen since 2016. In her role as the town leader for Bar Ukraine, Verkhivka Ukraine, and the Kehila manager for Mogilev-Podolski, she has contributed to fundraising efforts and facilitated the translation of record sets for the Ukraine Research Division. Additionally, Stefani has played a key role in overseeing the translation of four Yizkor Books.

Stefani initiated her exploration of family history in 2008, prompted by comprehensive DNA testing of both her parents. Grounded in family narratives, she successfully traced two ancestral lines back to the early 1700s, one to the mid-1800s, and, via a DNA BigY project, one astonishingly extending to the early 1300s.

In 2002, Stefani established Legacy Multimedia with the goal of aiding individuals in organizing their family histories, ephemera, and photographs into compelling narratives that convey their heritage for the enlightenment and enjoyment of future generations. Leveraging her expertise in genealogical research, she now routinely assists clients in uncovering additional layers of their family histories.

Gary Pokrassa, Data Acquisition Director

Gary retired from his day job in 2015 after a 46-year career as a CPA/ public company CFO.

An active genealogist since 2002 and has planned genealogy as his main retirement activity (and grandchildren!).

He has been active in as:

  • Data Acquisition Director for the Ukraine Research Division
  • Board of Directors Ukraine Research Division
  • Project leader for downloading scans made from Alex Krakovsky’s wiki pages and Ukraine Archive websites to JewishGen computers resulting in 19,000 files, 3.6 million pages of records and 3TB of data
  • He is the town leader for Zolotonosha and for Derazhnya UKR- his family’s ancestral shtetls. He led the Zolotonosha Vital Records Project
  • Completed the Book of Sorrows Project (Holocaust based) for JewishGen as project leader on behalf of the USHMM, and contributed data to the JOWBR (Jewish On Line Worldwide Burial Registry.)

He is a Board member and VP of Programming of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island, as well as a Board member of Jewish Records JRI-Poland.

Gary is the author of an article published in Summer 2020 issue of AVOTAYNU magazine “The Alex Krakovsky Project”.

He has developed his own family tree to over 2600 people.

Gary frequently lectures on Genealogy, including at the most recent four IAJGS conferences.

Ariel Parkansky, Information Systems Director

Ariel is an Information Technology professional. He has brought his professional and managerial skills to Ukraine RD.

His first contribution to the RD, when he joined it in 2011, was the complete restructuring of the website, creating a town based integrated platform that includes a very friendly user interface, a centralized database and a management panel. He has also created new organizational and information tools.

Ariel is also Member of the Board of the Bessarabia RD and the Town Leader and Kehilalinks owner for Odessa, Chechelnik, Kishinev, Kiliya and Akkerman. For each of those sites, he has compiled databases (under the research section), five ongoing projects that already contain together almost 150,000 individual records and image documents.

As town leader, he managed (some are ongoning) several translation projects (Odessa Tombstones Book, Kilya Cemetery, Odessa Vital Records indexes, Odessa 1897 Census, Benedery Vital Records...)

In 2016 Ariel donated to JewishGen the Research Division website platform that he had developed for the Ukraine RD. The platform is already in use by the Subcarpathia RD and in construction for the German and Bessarabia ones.
He also created a Kehilalinks template that is being used by several dozens sites

Before becoming involved with JewishGen and the Ukraine and Bessarabia RDs, Ariel organized a project to collect, translate, and publish Odessa vital records obtained by individual researchers (today integrated into the All Odessa database) and was part of the project for the 'Museum of the Jewish Colonies' website in Argentina.

Ariel began researching his family roots in the late 1990s and later added his wife's family to his research. His family comes originally from Bessarabia and Ukraine. They emigrated to Argentina at the turn of the 20th century. He grew up in Buenos Aires and has lived in Paris, France since 2003.

His family 'forest' numbers 1,550 individuals of whom about 700 are living today in 18 different countries on 4 continents. His family genealogy website contains more than 700 pictures and documents going back in some cases to the 17th century. You can visit it at

Karen Steinfeld, Towns Director

Karen is a recently retired Business Development executive after a 40-year career in the aerospace and defense industry. With her new found “free time” she is eagerly jumping into new genealogical endeavors and is looking forward to new roles with the Ukraine RD. She lives in Rockville, Maryland.

Karen began her genealogical and family history journey in 1982, inspired by both the mini-series “Roots” and the loss of her grandfather. After more than 40 years of research she still has mysteries to solve and new family lines to explore.

Karen has served as the Town Leader and KehiliaLinks owner for Moshny since 2014. As the Moshny Town Leader, Karen led a document acquisition and indexing project adding over 900 new vital records, spanning 1845-1918, to the Ukraine RD Database.

Karen is a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington and the Jewish Genealogy Society (New York). She is currently leading a project for JGSGW and the JewishGen USA Research Division to provide online access to over 10,000 records in the Jewish Names in the U.S. State Department Files (RG 59) pertaining to the protection of interests of US citizens abroad during the period 1910-1929.

Lara Diamond, Advisory Council

Lara is a lifelong Baltimore resident. She is President of JGSMaryland, JewishGen's Director of Subcarpathian Research, and is also Town Leader and KehilaLinks owner for Shpikov, Krasnoye, and Lubny, all in Ukraine.

Lara has coordinated a Ukraine Research Division-sponsored project to acquire documents from the Shpikov and Krasnoye area and transcribed all of the vital records found thus far from Hebrew and Russian. She has also transcribed thousands of vital records for the JewishGen's Jewish Maramaros and Subcarpathian projects.

She began researching her family around 1990, including the Diamant,Bajcz/Beitch, Garber, Lazovnik, Fine and Zutelman families from around Horochov and Lutsk, Volhynia, Ukraine; the Sanshuck, Zubkis, and Brandman families from Shpikov and Krasnoye, Vinnytsia, Ukraine; the Lefand, Tolchinsky, and Halperin families from Nezhin, Chernigov, Ukraine; the Joshowitz, Rutner, Farkas, Fuchs, and Eizkovic families from Kolodne/Darva, Transcarpathian Ukraine (former Maramaros); the Tolchinsky family from Lubny, Poltava, Ukraine; and the Halperin family from Krasnoye, Belarus.

She maintains a blog to document her research at

Hal Bookbinder, Advisory Council

Hal is past president of the JGS Los Angeles and the IAJGS. He has chaired or served in a Leadership role for eight IAJGS conferences, has published numerous articles on research techniques, Jewish history, border changes and safe computing and has lectured at most recent annual conferences. In 2010, he was honored with the IAJGS Lifetime Achievement Award and was elected to the JewishGen Board of Governors. He currently chairs JewishGen’s Strategic Planning Committee and is the Director of Special Projects for the JewishGen Ukraine RD. Hal created and continues to edit the Jewish Genealogy Yearbook. The 2011 edition includes almost 200 organizations involved in Jewish genealogy and history.

Hal has identified over 3,500 relatives, taking two lines back into the mid-18th Century. His family roots include Barenberg from Snitivka (Khmel'nyts'ka Oblast, Ukraine), Bookbinder from Dubno (Rivne Oblast, Ukraine), Muhlstein from Soroca (Soroca District, Moldova) and Sacharow from Poltava (Poltava Oblast, Ukraine).

Hal is originally from Newark, NJ, moving to Ulster County, NY when his folks acquired a small hotel there. After obtaining a Masters degree in computing from New York University, he entered the US Air Force where he tracked satellites from within Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Mountain Complex and earned a second Masters degree in business from the University of Northern Colorado. Upon his departure from active duty, he and his family settled in the Los Angeles area.

Hal currently directs Information Technology Finance and Administration for the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Health System, teaches courses in business, information technology and mathematics for the Southern California Campus of the University of Phoenix and directs a work readiness program for recovering addicts at Los Angeles’ Midnight Mission. Hal, his wife Marci, their four adult children and four grandchildren all reside in the northwestern Los Angeles area.

Joel Spector, Advisory Council

Joel is a Past President of the Jewish Genealogical [and Archival] Society of Greater Philadelphia, where he has also been chairperson of its Russian Special Interest Group.

Joel is a former Secretary of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and served as its Archivist. He has served as Program Chair for two IAJGS Conferences, most recently in London in 2023. Currently Joel is a member of the Ukraine Research Division and serves as a Policy Advisor.

Joel has been actively engaged in genealogy for over 30 years, and has been conducting research in several historic Russian-language encyclopedias. He has given presentations and workshops on the Russian language, both contemporary and pre-Revolutionary, and has provided translations of documents to individuals and groups. He has created an index for the Russian-language Evreiskaya Entsiklopedia.

Paul Finelt, Advisory Council

Paul is native of Laurelton, Queens, NY. He holds a BS in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Lehigh Univ.

He has been interested in genealogy and family history for 30 years. He's led classes and computer workshops on genealogy and has assisted friends and family in researching and preserving their family history.

As the Town Leader and KehilaLinks owner for Bershad and Ol'gopol he is leading the Olgopol Translation Project and has initiated the translation of the Bershad Yizkor Book.

Paul is a geek and loves to figure out how to make things.

Gil Bardige, Advisory Council

Gil Bardige, born & raised in Chicago, currently lives in the Columbus Ohio area. A graduate of the New York Institute of Technology, Gil retired in 2019 after a long career in air conditioning and refrigeration most recently as a National Business Development Leader for Trane Technologies.

At the “instruction” of his mother, Gil began his genealogy adventure in 1979 with 54 people in his tree. Today his family tree including Mishpocha, is over 2800 people tracing four branches back to his 5th great grandfathers born about 1740. His family arrived in Chicago in the early 20th century in the early 1900s.

For over 17 years Gil has expanded his knowledge base to Genetic Genealogy, testing at each of the four major DNA companies, and currently manages three y-DNA projects at Family Tree DNA as a Volunteer Administrator. He loves to help people manage their expectations and begin to remove confusion from the DNA results whether it’s, Y-DNA, mtDNA, or Autosomal DNA. He had spoken at dozens of local events and international conferences, including at IAJGS in Orlando, Cleveland, Virtual San Diego, Virtual Philadelphia, and most recently in London.

Gil is the Chair of the Genealogy Committee of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society (JGS). He co-hosts live Genetic Genealogy Q&A sessions at JGS Illinois and JGS Toronto. Gil developed and hosts the monthly CJHS Kvell & Kvetch genealogy Q&A in Columbus. Gil has managed the Mentoring Program for IAJGS and co-hosts the Apple Users & Jewish Genealogy Facebook page and monthly virtual BOF (Birds of a Feather) meeting.

Gil firmly believes that you can use DNA results as a tool in your genealogical research as it generates clues that can help people confirm/deny relationships. His speaking style is high energy (you won’t be bored) and he loves to take questions. People have said of his presentations, “Thank you, Gil, I am no longer confused!”

Chuck Weinstein, Advisory Council

Chuck Weinstein began his own family search in 1992. In 1995, he became a moderator for the JewishGen Discussion Group. After three years, he was asked to become Project Manager for what was then known as ShtetLinks. At that time, ShtetLinks had 65 pages, most of them very simple. By the time he resigned from that position in 2004, ShtetLinks (now KehilaLinks), had grown to over 250 individual towns from 16 countries, many of which had developed into very extensive commemorations of their towns. Serving as a Moderator for the Ukraine Discussion Group from 2005 to 2012, he joined the Board of the Ukraine Research Division in 2012 as Towns Director.  JewishGen recognized his long service to the organization in 2019, awarding him the first Susan E. King Volunteer of the Year.

A board member of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island since 2002, Chuck served as President in 2007, 2008, and 2011. He has also served as President of two of his professional organizations in the insurance industry. He was Co-Chair of the 2016 IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Seattle and Lead Chair of the 2023 IAJGS Conference in London.

His roots in Ukraine run deep. His Weinstein and Schnayer ancestors come from Korostyshiv in what was the Volhynia Guberniya, and he also has maternal Weinstein ancestors in Voznesensk in Kherson Guberniya. Other roots are found in Lithuania and Romania. He is able to trace two lines back well into the 15th century and most of his other lines to early in the 19th century.

Chuck currently lives in Bellport, NY, midway out on Long Island. He has 4 children and 7 grandchildren.

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