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Providing Access to a Lifetime of Jewish Learning

Providing Access to a Lifetime of Jewish Learning

Lifelong Jewish Learning — Amplified and Multiplied
Across Our Community

By Dr. Dean P. Bell

Over the past two years, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership — with support of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago — has convened a special network of Jewish community professionals: those responsible for planning and presenting Jewish learning opportunities for adults.

Participants from more than thirty organizations have met monthly at the JCC in Skokie to learn from experts and from each other. The topics covered have ranged from learning theory to the use of Jewish texts, from balancing program budgets to working with volunteers.

We are pleased to announce that this Adult Jewish Learning Initiative will continue next year, with the addition of special workshops for Jewish educators and lay leaders involved with adult programming for their organizations.

The goals of this new network are severalfold: to provide valuable opportunities for professional development, spur collaborative initiatives, and develop a forum for like-minded professionals to share best practices.

As part of this project, Spertus undertook a needs assessment and market scan. Program-planning professionals were surveyed, as were current and prospective program participants. Key educators were interviewed and focus groups were held with adult learners. The results will be made available to the community in the coming months and will help to inform Jewish program opportunities across our community.

As part of last year’s initiative, the professionals’ network developed a community-wide collaborative pilot program. Participants in the network sought to test the possibility of bringing dozens of organizations together on a single program designed to address initial recommendations from the needs assessment. Among the recommendations tested were location, logistics, cost, topics, and modes of delivery.

The program — titled Jewish Resilience: Responding to Crisis, Catastrophe, and Change — as held at the Orrington Hotel in Evanston on Thursday evening, June 2. It brought together participants from across the greater Chicago area, who had a unique opportunity to learn in small groups with scholars Dr. Alan Mintz from the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York, Dr. David Shyovitz from Northwestern University, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth, also from Northwestern.

The evening was headlined by activist and author Dr. Susannah Heschel from Dartmouth College. The presentations focused on responses to crisis from literary, historical, environmental, and religious perspectives. Extending the program’s reach, video excerpts from the presentations will soon be available at

In the year ahead, the Adult Jewish Learning Initiative will develop a second collaborative program as well as a community-wide web platform relating to Adult Jewish Learning. The web platform will provide access to curated video, audio, and text content on a number of Jewish subjects, a community calendar of local Jewish educational opportunities for adults, and resources for professionals working in the field. This unique project seeks to capitalize on the impressive range of programs offered in Chicago, while creating a more cohesive way for members of the community to tap into opportunities for lifelong Jewish learning.

The project fits firmly with Spertus Institute’s two underlying beliefs: that learning Jewish communities are vibrant Jewish communities and that great Jewish communities need great Jewish leaders. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue this important work.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016