Spertus Institute’s 2024 Graduation

Spertus Institute announces the 2024 graduates of its prestigious master’s programs

At a time of great need, these graduates bring in-demand leadership expertise to Jewish organizations across North America

Judaism teaches that learning is powerful. It grounds us in our history and equips us to face contemporary challenges. In easy times and hard times, it provides a platform from which we can build and strengthen our communities.

Chicago-based Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership recently awarded master’s degrees to eighteen graduates who embody this vital Jewish tradition. They are all committed community leaders who reach thousands of people in the work they do every day. At this time of rising antisemitism and deep divisions, when many Jewish institutions face unprecedented challenges, these skilled graduates join thousands of other Spertus alumni who advance Jewish organizations and communities around the world.

The 2024 graduation ceremony was held Sunday, May 5, at Spertus Institute’s award-winning downtown Chicago campus. In his welcome, Spertus President & CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell put the achievements of this year’s graduates in historical context. He said, “As many of you know, Spertus was founded in 1924, which means we are celebrating Spertus Institute’s centennial — one hundred years of educational impact, that, without exaggeration, has strengthened Jewish communities and changed the course of Jewish history.”

Elaborating, Spertus Dean & Chief Academic Officer Dr. Keren E. Fraiman said: “Spertus attracts students who have impressive personal and professional achievements. They have worked and volunteered with great devotion in many disciplines, enriching their communities. But our students are not content to live in the past — they continuously and tirelessly seek to learn, grow, and develop.”

Speaking to the graduates, she said, “This year, in many ways, has been like no other. As communal leaders, you have held others and strengthened those around you. Alongside all that was happening around you, you were there for one another. You engaged in deep thinking with your faculty and showed up fully, as your whole selves. For me, each of you has been a ray of light in these dark times — a glimmer of hope that there will be a day after and that we will endure and be stronger, guided by each of you.”


Graduation 2024

Three student speakers shared remarks.

Shelley Stern Grach, former Director of Civic Engagement at Microsoft and a current Spertus Institute Trustee, reflected on the state of the world after October 7 and how it can be made better for her new grandson, Dexter, and others. “The Master of Arts in Jewish Studies program has provided me all the tools I need to make Dexter’s world better,” she said. “Studying great thinkers and leaders helped me clarify my own questions, my perspectives, and perhaps most importantly, my action plan.” She addressed graduates, adding, “I encourage all of you to continue with your studies. Build your own toolkit to better enable you to heal the world.”

Hillary Zaken, Interim Assistant Dean of Multifaith Engagement at Elon University, who completed her Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies as part of a special cohort for executives, spoke about the deep connections made between members of her cohort as they learned together. She said, “I’ve found inspiration and friendship and a shared commitment to making a difference in the world. The relationships built in this space have shaped our journey, imbuing it with meaning and purpose as powerful as the texts and tools we studied.”

Amram Altzman, Associate Director of Youth Programs at Keshet, a national organization devoted to LGBTQ equity in Jewish life, spoke of the unique opportunity of learning at a Jewish institution, especially one devoted to both theory and practice. Altzman, who received his Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies, said, “It is one thing to have the opportunity to study Torah and Jewish history, another thing to be able to hone our management and supervision skills and explore how to navigate through periods of intense change. It is wholly another to have been able to do it at a place like this one, where we are all working to serve the Jewish community.”

The graduation address was given by Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman.

This year’s graduation address was presented by Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman, co-founder and executive director of Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning, a home for transformative Jewish learning and spiritual practice. In her address, she shared touchstones she had gleaned from her own teachers, mentors, and years in the field. She called on the graduates to 1) Look closely, to see between the layers and beneath the superficial; 2) Stay troubled and committed, an idea from educator Donniel Hartman that suggests that graduates should ground themselves in the significance of their work yet also know that this work can be heavy and complicated; and 3) Find partners and build relationships, because they feed your work in vital ways.

Graduation Trio 2024

Spertus Institute’s 2024 Graduates

Degree of Master of Arts in Jewish Studies

This program builds on Spertus Institute’s decades-long role as a pioneer in this area.

  • Shelley Stern Grach, former Director of Civic Engagement at Microsoft and Spertus Institute Trustee, New Buffalo, MI

Degree of Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies

This cohort-driven program advances the work of those who serve Jewish organizations. The graduates included those from executive, regional, and North American cohorts.

  • Anaël Abitbol, Advisor, Organizational Learning, Bombardier, Montreal, Quebec (in absentia)
  • Amram Altzman, Associate Director of Youth Programs, Keshet, New York, NY
  • Lisa Apfelberg, Executive Director, Jewish Veg and the Jewish Initiative for Animals, Austin, TX (in absentia)
  • Alexis Doctor, Director, Member & Guest Services, Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Russell Gottschalk, Assistant Manager, Distillery of Modern Art, Atlanta, GA
  • Lauren Michelle Grossman, Director of Individual Giving, JCFS Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Sari Hendleman Menaker, Preschool Director, Chai Academy, Dunwoody, GA
  • Adam G. Hirsh, Managing Director, Community Planning and Allocations, Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Solon, OH
  • Dr. Audra Kaplan, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Interim Director of Community Wellness and Inclusion, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Highland Park, IL
  • Joel Samuel Lewison, Program and Administrative Associate, Orthodox Union, Chicago, IL
  • Noach Pawliger, Chief Wonder Officer and Founder, Niflaot: The Jewish Exceptional Learners Initiative, Marietta, GA (in absentia)
  • Victoria Fulcher Raggs, Founding Executive Director, Atlanta Jews of Color Council, Atlanta, GA
  • Samantha Raizen Walsh, Director of Development, Denver Jewish Day School, Denver, CO
  • Melissa Rivkin, Director of Day School Strategy, Samis Foundation, Seattle, WA
  • Sarah Emily Scheinman, Rochester, NY
  • Talia Tor, Senior Development Officer, Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County, West Orange, NJ
  • Hillary Zaken, Interim Assistant Dean of Multifaith Engagement, Elon University, Greensboro, NC

Those interested in becoming a future Spertus Institute graduate should visit spertus.edu for program and application information or contact Assistant Director of Recruitment Amie Barrish at abarrish@spertus.edu.

Graduation Trio 2024

About Spertus Institute

Spertus Institute is an institution of higher Jewish learning dedicated to real-world action. At Spertus Institute, we believe that the wisdom in Jewish history, thought, and texts has meaning as an academic pursuit and as a catalyst for action. The learning we offer is rich and rigorous. It is deeply relevant to the challenges we face today and to building a stronger, more compassionate, more vibrant future.

At our core are degree and certificate programs in which students engage with Jewish ideas in the service of personal growth, community leadership, and professional advancement. These offerings, which merge theory and practice, educate Jewish professionals, community leaders, and those who seek quality, reflection-driven scholarship.

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.


Photos from Top

Top Image: Spertus Institute’s 2024 graduates. | Image A: Graduate Talia Tor and Yael Flynn | Image B: Amram Altzman | Image C: Rina Shaneson and Joel Lewison | Image D: Russell Gottschalk and Irving Gottschalk | Image E: Dr. Dean P. Bell, graduate Shelley Stern Grach, and Dr. Keren E. Fraiman | Image F: Adam Hirsh and his entourage | Image G: Victoria Fulcher Raggs | Image H. Graduates listening to remarks | Image I: Cori Friedman and Alexis Doctor | Image J: Hillary Zaken and J Vansickle | Image K: Graduation speaker Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman. Behind her is Dr. Keren E. Fraiman.

Photos by Maggie Russo.

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