Sallie Gratch, a social worker from Illinois, and Svetlana Yakimenko, a teacher from Moscow, first met on a Soviet-American Peace Walk in 1987, and connected with each other as Jewish women. In 1989, they officially founded Project Kesher, an organization designed to help Jewish women throughout the Newly Independent States (NIS) reconnect with their Jewish heritage and with each other. As they began to work across the NIS, they discovered Jewish women living next door to each other who were completely unaware of their shared roots and traditions. Identifying a need for connection and community, Project Kesher brought these women together and worked to “to support Jewish renewal in small towns within the Soviet Union.”
In 1994, Project Kesher launched their first major event: the International Conference of Jewish Women, which took place in Kiev, Ukraine. The conference brought together hundreds of women from both the NIS and the Western world, and led to a dramatic increase in the formation of women’s groups. That same year, Executive Director Karyn Gershon joined the organization's leadership. In 1995, Project Kesher began their Women’s Exchange program, in which Western women led workshops in the NIS on Judaism, women’s health issues, gender violence, community building, and business. The same year, Project Kesher began global celebrations of Jewish holidays, beginning with their now-annual Pre-Passover Global Women’s Seder and following it with a global Sukkot celebration. Project Kesher has also conducted mother/daughter retreats, opened computer centers, and provided Torahs to Jewish communities who had lost them. Today, Project Kesher has expanded their mission to “build Jewish community and advance civil society by developing and empowering women leaders,” and they work with Jewish women’s groups and interfaith coalitions throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Russian-speaking communities in Israel.