Educating Leaders To Combat Antisemitism

A New Spertus Institute Certificate Program Prepares Jewish Communal Executives to Combat Rising Antisemitism

Jewish leaders need tools and training to respond to the complex and challenging threats reflected in contemporary antisemitism. A new Spertus Institute certificate program addresses this need with the expertise it demands.


This interview with Dr. Dean P. Bell by Esther D. Kustanowitz was published in, an online publication serving the professional Jewish community, on June 9, 2022. An update from May 11, 2023 appears below.



The synagogue attack in Colleyville, Texas, in January. The physical assaults against Jews following the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Jewish college students under a constant barrage of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolutions on campus. With antisemitism running at historically high levels, Jewish leaders are having to navigate a treacherous minefield when it comes to community relations, especially in the age of social media.

The situation is prompting Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership to launch a new certificate to provide Jewish leaders with the tools and training to respond to the complex threats reflected in contemporary antisemitism, Dean P. Bell, Spertus’ president and CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. The Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism program follows the Spertus approach of “applying Jewish learning and using experiences to help engage and address contemporary and emerging issues,” Bell said.

Applications are now open to those in executive leadership positions in North American Jewish organizations of all types, including social justice, social services, synagogues, advocacy, education, community relations, philanthropy, campus engagement and interreligious partnerships.

Starting in January 2023, the program will consist of a two hour weekly online session lasting 11 weeks, with an in-person seminar in Chicago at the approximate midpoint in February. The curriculum will cover three key topics, Bell said: community relations, external relations and communications. The community relations module, he continued, centers on navigating the diversity of constituents, for instance activists’ varying attitudes toward defining and addressing antisemitism. External relations is about building alliances and relationships beyond the Jewish community, “so that when something happens, you can call on them, and they can call on us,” he said. Communications will have a significant social media component: how and when to make statements, and understanding how social media is used productively and negatively when it comes to antisemitism, Bell said, adding that these topics will likely be among those to be covered in person, because they are more relational.

Bell, who also holds a faculty appointment as professor of Jewish history, said that the certificate program will cover the history of antisemitism as well as contemporary events and, given the rise of antisemitic sentiments over social media, “place [antisemitism] into conversation with other issues with other kinds of bigotry and hatred and bias.” The goal, he added, is for cohort members to “understand the range of opinions and perspectives their constituents and others have as they’re engaging with them, but also as they’re forming their own responses.”

Bell said a related goal of the program is to create a trusted network of colleagues who can consult with one another on an ongoing basis. “The diversity of the cohort, in this case, will be really important,” he said.

The faculty will include academics as well as those who approach their work with a community lens, such as leaders from federations, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Councils, social media and different kinds of Jewish philanthropy. Participants will be matched with coaches who can help them develop related projects for their local communities.

The project began with a proposal to the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, and then attracted interest from several family foundations from across the country, and a couple of larger foundations in the Midwest, Bell said. Spertus has raised about $300,000 for the program and aims to raise another $200,000-$300,000 to support the initial launch and its development. After the first three pilot cohorts, Spertus leadership hopes to expand access to other Jewish leaders.

Because many people equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism, Israel will also be a focus of the program, Bell said. And with conversation on antisemitism expanding into the cultural realm as well — in the entertainment space, where non-Jewish actors don facial prosthetics to “play Jewish,” for instance — Bell expects that the program will include conversations about some of these potentially explosive areas.

“Our goal is to bring people into conversation with a diversity of perspectives, so they can understand the assumptions and positions of their own head, but also of others as well,” Bell said. “Our goal is not to be prescriptive in this regard,” he said, adding that participants will “evaluate the full range of perspectives on what we think about as antisemitism,” and form their own judgment.


Jewish Community Executives From Across North America Learn to Combat Rising Antisemitism

May 11, 2023

Jewish leaders need tools and training to respond to the troubling rise in antisemitism. To address this need with the expertise it demands, Chicago-based Spertus Institute launched the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism with an inaugural cohort of 17 Jewish community executives and senior professionals from across North America.

These front-line leaders are working together with a team of experts. The program will equip them to respond to antisemitic incidents with knowledge, strength, and skill.

Inaugural Cohort

Scott Braswell of Irvine, CA
CEO, Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County

Melissa Chapman of Berkeley, CA
CEO, Jewish Community Center of the East Bay 

Tamara Donnenfeld of Miami, FL
Director of Lifelong Learning, Temple Beth Am

Dr. Lisa Epstein of San Antonio, TX
Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Federation of San Antonio

Eileen Freed of Ann Arbor, MI
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor

Monica Gebell of Rochester, NY
Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester’s Levine Center to End Hate

Debra Barton Grant of Carmel, IN
Associate Vice President, LiveSecure, Jewish Federations of North America

Jared Isaacson of Beachwood, OH
Executive Director, Cleveland Hillel Foundation

Rabbi Bob Kaplan of Bronx, NY
Executive Director, Center for a Shared Society, Community Relations Council, New York

Judith Levey of Evanston, IL
Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Chicago

Tina Malka of Poway, CA
Director of Antisemitism Education and Associate Director, Israel Action Program, Hillel International

Johanna Novis of Toronto, ON
Director, Community Mobilization to Combat Antisemitism, UJA Federation of Toronto

Rabbi David Oler of Deerfield, IL
Rabbi, The New Reform Congregation Kadima, Riverwoods

Gustavo Rymberg of Hamilton, ON
CEO, Hamilton Jewish Federation

Briana Schwartz of Coral Gables, FL
Executive Director, University of Miami Hillel

Joyce Tenenbaum Shevin of Birmingham, AL
Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Birmingham Jewish Federation

Jon Warech of Miami, FL
Executive Director, Hillel at Florida International University

Unfortunately, there is a pressing need for this program.

According to the Pew Research Center, six-in-ten American Jews report having had a personal experience with antisemitism in the previous year, ranging from seeing antisemitic vandalism to experiencing direct harassment. The ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the US in 2021, representing a 34% increase from 2020. This is the highest number since ADL began tracking in 1979. In September, a study revealed that Jews in Canada are the most targeted of religious minorities in that country for hate crimes. While Jews comprise only 1% of the population in Canada, they were the victims of 14% of reported hate crimes, reflecting a 47% increase between 2020 and 2021.

“Rising antisemitism targets the very fabric of our communities, as do all forms of bias and hatred,” said Spertus Institute President & CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell. “Combating antisemitism requires understanding our current climate in both an historical and contemporary context, right alongside the development of determinative real-world skills.” In addition to his role as Spertus President & CEO, Dr. Bell holds a faculty appointment as Professor of History and served as Associate Editor of the two-volume Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution.

Spertus Institute Dean & Chief Academic Officer Dr. Keren E. Fraiman said, “The executives in this program become part of a network of institutional leaders who can leverage each other’s talents, resources, and relationships to combat antisemitism with coordinated efforts across communities. They will gain important knowledge about the manifestations of antisemitism, combined with critical skills in community engagement, risk assessment, crisis communications, and alliance building.”

Both Dr. Bell and Dr. Fraiman are among the experts teaching in the program.

Area of Focus: Combating Antisemitism