Ethan Berkowitz and Mara Kimmel
This year Congregation Beth Sholom presents its Shining Lights Award to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Dr. Mara Kimmel for their inspired leadership, making our community - and our world - a better place.
Ethan and Mara grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but didn't meet until they had both settled in Alaska. They independently headed north seeking adventure and the chance to do good work. They finally met in Anchorage in 1998, bonding over politics and justice. They married in 2000, and are raising two children, Ziva and Noah, in Anchorage. They love spending time with family, exploring Alaska and the world - hiking, skiing, eating and discovering. They appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a place where everyone can make a difference and where everyone matters.
Move Forward, Be Bold, Dream Big
Ethan Berkowitz came to Alaska in 1990, the long way around – having spent time in the Antarctic before heading North. That way he could tell his parents that he had made his way up in the world. He came to Alaska as a law clerk, stayed as an assistant district attorney, and then moved to the legislature, followed by a series of campaigns and business ventures. He presently serves as the Mayor of Anchorage.
Ethan’s political philosophy blends the pragmatic and the aspirational – move forward, be bold, dream big. He views public service as a way to move the community closer to ideals of liberty and justice for all, to extend the American Dream as widely as possible, and to govern based on facts and results.
Berkowitz graduated with honors from Harvard College, majoring in government and economics. His undergraduate thesis led to three stints in the Antarctic, doing everything from shoveling snow to guiding to law enforcement. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute and law degree from Hastings College.
In 1990, Ethan moved to Alaska to serve as a law clerk with the state Court of Appeals. He then became a state prosecutor in the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office.
Berkowitz was elected to the state legislature in 1996, serving for 10 years in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was named minority leader after his first term, with a reputation for building bipartisan coalitions and taking a strong stance on ethical government. A champion for fiscal responsibility, energy resources and public safety, he earned national recognition for his service to Alaska.
Berkowitz also worked in the private sector on strategic direction in Alaska, focusing on renewable energy and fiber-optic infrastructure. He and Mara along with a group of Alaska family friends are also proud partners in a string of Anchorage restaurants.
Advocate, Educate & Stand up for Justice
Mara Kimmel lives by her creed of “stand up, don’t stand by.” Her leadership – as an advocate, educator and organizer – has inspired numerous Alaskans to stand up for human rights, justice and equity.
Mara came to Alaska while a college student, looking for summer adventure. She sure found it! During her summer travels, Mara found herself stranded on a tributary of the Yukon River after having lost her canoe to a log jam. Food dwindling, Mara watched with envy as a family of local moose effortlessly navigated the terrain that had stopped her in her tracks. Eventually, a family of humans paddled down the creek, stopping for the night and taking Mara back into civilization. The lessons were clear – never wander into the wilderness without telling people where you are going, don’t bring books like the Gulag Archipelago on backcountry trips, and respect the moose.
After spending a year in the frigid temperatures of Fairbanks, Mara returned to the University of California-Berkeley to complete her bachelor’s degree in political science so she could come back to Alaska as soon as possible. She moved into a series of dry cabins, living without running water or electricity. Mara earned a masters’ degree in natural resource management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. During and after her degree, Mara worked with Indigenous communities to ensure and protect land and subsistence rights. Her experiences inspired her to go to law school, and she returned to Alaska in 1996 with a degree from the University of Minnesota.
As an immigration lawyer, Mara pursued her passion for public policy, human rights, and social justice. She advocated for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and political persecution, representing clients from all over the world. In 2005, Mara co-founded the Alaska Immigration Justice Project (now the Alaska Institute of Justice), a non-profit that provides legal and language services to immigrants and addresses human rights issues in Alaska.
Mara works with the Alaska Court System promoting access to justice, and with the Anchorage Museum on northern scholarship and research. She also serves on the board of directors for the Alaska Institute of Justice, Welcoming America and the Anti-Defamation League–Pacific Northwest.