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Uriel Epshtein, 28
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CIVIL SOCIETY36 Under 36 2020

Uriel Epshtein, 28

Conversation Across Divides

What you do:

I am the executive director of the Renew Democracy Initiative (www.rdi.org), an organization founded by Garry Kasparov dedicated to promoting liberal democratic values through robust multimedia materials. I also volunteer as the board chairman and founder of the Peace & Dialogue Leadership Initiative. PDLI creates a space on campuses for a nuanced discussion of the United States’ role in the Middle East and bridges the civil-military divide.

Unexpected fun fact:

I speak four languages: Russian (I still speak it with my mom); fluent French; and broken Hebrew 

Quote you live by:

“I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall

How you got here:

RDI was founded in 2017 with the goal of building a movement to promote the shared liberal democratic values that should guide our nation. In college, I founded the Peace & Dialogue Leadership Initiative (PDLI). This group was more successful than anticipated and endured through the years. One of our supporters also sat on RDI’s board and noted that I’d already built a small, start-up nonprofit group and asked if I’d be willing to do the same thing but on a larger scale.

Formative childhood moment:

Saturday night dinners with my parents and their friends. We would sit around the table and discuss politics, history, Jewish culture, etc. These conversations were the first thing that triggered my interest in fighting for a more nuanced approach to political affairs.

What do you consider unique or innovative about what you do?

RDI takes a unique approach to getting people to believe in and support core democratic principles: we must make civics exciting and accessible and the best way to do that is through multimedia content. We try to take some of the tactics that make misinformation go viral and put them to better use.

What Jewish source, person, book, etc., has inspired your work?

Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”: There is a difference in kind between relationships that we form primarily due to their instrumental value and those that we prioritize due to their intrinsic value.

Fondest Jewish memory:

The most powerful memory was sitting shiva for my father. I remember how people from all different parts of my life, both Jews and non-Jews, came together to comfort me and my mother. It was an incredible outpouring of communal support and a strong indicator of what matters most to me about my Jewish identity — the community that comes with it.

FOLLOW ME: @urielepshtein

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