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Letter from the President — Spring 2014

Letter from the President — Spring 2014

A Milestone of Jewish Learning and Leadership

2014 marks the 90th anniversary of Spertus Institute. A milestone of such significance offers the opportunity to reflect on our history and project into the future. Over the course of the past nine decades, despite occasional twists and turns, Spertus has remained firmly committed to two overarching truths. Simply stated, we believe that learning is the beating heart of vibrant Jewish communities and that great Jewish communities need great Jewish leaders. Everything we do at Spertus is driven by these two overarching truths.

Learning is the beating heart of vibrant Jewish communities

For millennia Jews have understood that learning is not just for kids. To be Jewish is to engage in an ongoing, lifelong, ever-evolving process of learning and growth. When the Torah instructs: “ve’shinantam livanekha, you shall teach your children,” it presupposes that parents and grandparents know enough to teach their progeny.

When it comes to quality Jewish learning, at Spertus we know that one size never fits all. For this reason our programs and course offerings span the continuum from traditional Jewish Studies disciplines (Bible, rabbinics, history, philosophy, languages) to arts and culture (music, theater, poetry, literature, visual arts). And for this reason, we are proudly and unapologetically non-denominational. Our students and faculty are Jews and non-Jews; they are observant and non-observant. Truly, they represent the richness and diversity of our communities.

One of the most important findings to emerge from the recent Pew Foundation study of American Jews (A Portrait of Jewish Americans, October 1, 2013) is the fact that people access the Jewish experience on their own terms, seeking to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, not because someone else tells them what it means to be Jewish. This is why at Spertus we place a premium on accessibility and individualization in our programs of adult learning. In this regard, our use of technology and the flexibility of our offerings are hallmarks of the Spertus experience.

Spertus learners are a diverse group. They include lovers of Jewish music excited to hear new works performed, scholars completing their research in Jewish mysticism, young parents trying to stay one step ahead of their kids’ Jewish education, Generation X children of interfaith families working to uncover their Jewish roots, and artists seeking to ground their work in Jewish values, just to name a few. Like Jews in every generation, they treasure the transformative powers of Jewish learning.

Great Jewish communities need great Jewish leaders

Now, more than ever, North American Jewry needs leaders — lay and professional — who understand the nuances and complexities of the Jewish experience and who possess the vision and skills necessary to make bold and sometimes difficult decisions. Responding to the fury of rapidly changing circumstances and new realities in American Jewish life is not for the faint of heart. Great Jewish communities need great leadership, and at Spertus we make great leaders.

Leaders trained at Spertus serve the Jewish people as rabbis and youth workers, Israel educators, and day school administrators. They are fundraisers and organizational executives, and they are volunteer leaders as well, who serve on boards and committees across Chicago and in communities around North America. They study in formal classrooms, pursuing graduate degrees and completing certificate programs designed to teach subjects ranging from strategic planning to communications. But leadership can never be taught in the classroom alone. Spertus students work with mentors, carefully selected to help guide them in their quest to become great leaders. They are challenged to work in partnership with colleagues and classmates who represent the diversity of Jewish organizational perspectives throughout Chicago. In the process, Spertus students are helping to break down walls and enhance collaboration across the Jewish world.

While many in our community appreciate the value of leadership training in the corporate arena, this attitude has not always gained traction in the Jewish world. At Spertus we understand the incontrovertible link between great leaders and great communities, and we are working every day to build both.

~ ~ ~

Spertus Institute’s 90th anniversary is, indeed, cause for great celebration, but even more, it is reason for enormous gratitude. We are grateful to our donors and contributors who support our mission and treasure our work especially the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago for their understanding that adult Jewish learning is not a luxury. I am grateful to our board of trustees, our faculty and students, and my wonderful colleagues who each deserve credit for enabling us to reach this momentous occasion. 

Dr. Hal M. Lewis

Dr. Hal M. Lewis
President and CEO
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

Read The Leading Edge, Dr. Hal M. Lewis’ blog about Jewish leadership.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Spertus President and CEO 
Dr. Hal M. Lewis