Spertus Institute announces the 2023 graduates of its prestigious Master’s and Doctoral programs
Judaism teaches that it is important to pursue knowledge throughout our lives, not just in our early years. Learning strengthens our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It grounds us in our history, expands our perspective, and equips us to adapt in the face of change.
The twenty-seven 2023 graduates of Spertus Institute’s acclaimed Master’s and Doctoral programs embody this beautiful and vital Jewish tradition. They join thousands of other Spertus alumni who advance Jewish organizations and communities around the world with their Spertus-acquired knowledge and skills.
The 2023 graduation ceremony was held on Sunday, May 7, at Spertus Institute’s innovative downtown Chicago campus. In his welcome to graduates and guests, Spertus President & CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell said: “Our graduates come from all kinds of backgrounds and bring a wide range of experiences. But an important thread unites them. They are all committed learners who reach thousands of people in the work they do every day. Having taught and learned with each of them, I can attest that they are remarkable ambassadors, spreading the light of Jewish learning and laying the groundwork for a better world.”
Elaborating, Spertus Dean & Chief Academic Officer Dr. Keren E. Fraiman said: “Spertus attracts students who have impressive professional achievements and compelling personal visions and goals. They have graduated from outstanding colleges and universities around the globe. They work and volunteer with great devotion in many disciplines, enriching their communities. But our students are not content to live in the past — they tirelessly seek to learn, grow, and develop.”
We are proud of what our students bring to us and what they share with the thousands of people they impact — Dr. Keren E. Fraiman
She continued, “At Spertus we are very proud of the outstanding education that we provide our students. But we are even more proud of what our students bring to us and what they share with the thousands of people they impact. I look forward to being part of the future they create.”
The Graduation Address was given by Susan L. Abrams, a community leader known for creating transformational growth. Abrams has served as CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and COO of JCC Chicago. She is the author of The New Success Rules for Women. In her address, she shared four leadership lessons.
- Take smart risks, but always have plans B, C, and maybe D just in case.
- You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to surround yourself with smart people with diverse ideas.
- Don’t hesitate to ask — whether it’s for help or opportunities.
- Be persistent, a lesson she keeps close by remembering a fortune cookie message that said, “A diamond is a hunk of coal that stuck with it.”
Two student speakers shared remarks. Jessica Ochs, Senior Youth and Teen Director of Shalom Austin in Austin, Texas, spoke of how the Spertus Institute program changed her and her fellow graduates, in ways beyond what they expected, and how those changes ripple through their lives and communities. She said, “For our families and friends, it’s the growth in us that you have witnessed. For our colleagues, it is our shared commitment to serve our people, as well as the great ideas that we have brought back and implemented in our work. For our Spertus Institute professors, mentors, and coaches, it is the knowledge that you have impacted each one of us through your guidance and your commitment to Jewish communal life. For us graduates, it is immense pride we have in the work we have done to obtain our degrees, and the bonds we created that will last a lifetime.”
Scott Braswell referenced a core Spertus tenet: the merging of theory and practice. He said, “You cannot have one without the other, in the same way that that Jewish leaders must understand both our history and the realities of the present day. We need to use our new knowledge and skills to construct bridges, increase understanding, and help bring together a fractured world.” Braswell is CEO of the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, California, and he continues his studies at Spertus as part of the inaugural cohort of the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism.
Spertus helped me to see my work in a new light. It has changed how I work and encouraged me to aspire toward leadership in the Jewish community —Rachel Adams
Both Ochs and Braswell spoke of the excellence and impact of their Spertus experience, sentiments that were echoed by other graduates. Rachel Adams of the Jewish National Fund in New York said: “Spertus helped me to see my work in a new light. It has changed how I work and encouraged me to aspire toward leadership in the Jewish community.” Marci Bratt Bykat, an arts educator from Huntington Woods, Michigan, said: “This program is life changing!”
Two graduates received degrees in advanced Jewish Studies, carrying on Spertus Institute’s decades-long role as a pioneer in this area. Dr. Russel Hendel of Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland, received his Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies. Bruce Greenberg, the retired CEO of BioMatrix Specialty Pharmacy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, received his Master of Arts in Jewish Studies in absentia and will continue his studies at Spertus to earn his Doctor of Hebrew Letters.
Twenty-five graduates received their Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies, completing a cohort-driven program that advances the work of those who serve Jewish organizations. The graduates include those from executive, local, regional, and North American cohorts. They are:
- Rachel Adams, Associate Director of Travel & Tours, Jewish National Fund, New York, NY
- Rachel Bachrach, Assistant Vice President of Endowment Development, Jewish United Fund of Chicago, IL
- Olivia Berlin, Senior Associate, Israel and Overseas, Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, Detroit, MI
- Adam Bershad, Director of Engagement and Israel Experiences, Maryland Hillel, College Park, MD, Washington, DC
- Scott Braswell, Chief Executive Officer, Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, Irvine, CA
- Marci Bratt Bykat, Arts Educator, Huntington Woods, MI
- Roberta Catalinotto, Vice President of Development, Friends of the Urban Forest, Mill Valley, CA
- Maureen Chapman, Executive Director, Temple Emanuel, Andover, MA
- Rachael Coe, Manager of People & Operations, JewishColumbus, Columbus, OH
- Lindsay Eiley, Director, Passport to Jewish Life, Federation CJA, Westmount, Quebec
- Lara Goldenberg, Manager of Customer Experience, Membership and Events, Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec
- Katelyn Graves, Youth Program Manager, Jewish Federation Louisville, Louisville, KY
- Eliana Leader, Director, Kaplan Mitchell Retreat Center at Ramah Darom, Atlanta, GA
- Rhonda Levy-Wehner, RMT, Coordinator of Jewish Care Services and Team Chaplain, JourneyCare Hospice and Palliative Care, Arlington Heights, IL
- Jessica Ochs, Senior Youth and Teen Director, Shalom Austin, Austin, TX
- Zhanna Soloveychik, Case Manager, Center for Russian Speakers, Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center, Chicago, IL
- Danica Torchin, Associate Program Director, Jewish Nevada, Las Vegas, NV
- Elizabeth Ury, Director of Jewish Community Engagement, JCFS Chicago, Deerfield, IL
- Jessica Zimmerman, Manager of Content Operations, Jewish Enrichment Team, BBYO North Florida Region, Bonita Springs, FL
- Zvi Zobin, Director of Atid Programs, JFNA, New York, NY
- Grace Miller-Day, Associate Director of Community Engagement, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, BC
- Casey Cole, Chief Financial Officer, Texas Association for the Education of Young Children, Austin, TX
- Mac Lindner, Camp Director, Camp Young Judaea, Houston, TX
- Jackie Menter, Executive Director, Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees, Orange County, CA
- Rachel Wimberley, Senior Social Services Director, Shalom Austin, Austin, TX
PHOTOS FROM TOP
Image A (Front row, left to right): Jessica Zimmerman, Rhonda Levy-Wehner, Maureen Chapman, Zhanna Soloveychick, Rachel Bachrach, Eliana Leader, Lara Goldenberg, Roberta Catalinotto. (Back row, left to right): Adam Bershad, Elizabeth Ury, Lindsey Eiley, Olivia Berlin, Jessica Ochs, Rachel Adams, Katelyn Graves, Marci Bratt Bykat, Danica Torchin, Zvi Zobin, Scott Braswell, Dr. Russel Hendel, Rachael Coe. Image B: Student speakers Jessica Ochs and Scott Braswell. Image C: Spertus Dean & CAO Dr. Keren E. Fraiman, Graduation speaker Susan L. Abrams, and Spertus President & CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell. Image D: Chicago-area graduates Rachel Adams, Rhonda Levy-Wehner, Elizabeth Ury, and Zhanna Solveychik. Image E: Graduate Marci Bratt Bykat with her family. Image F: Graduate Zvi Zobin with his husband Rabbi Sammy Kanter. Image G: Graduates Olivia Berlin and Lindsay Eiley. Image H: Graduate Eliana Leader and Dr. Keren E. Fraiman. Photos by Maggie Russo.