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Students & Alumni Reimagine Community

Students & Alumni Reimagine Community

reimagining community

Logic will get you from A to Z. 
Imagination will get you everywhere.—Albert Einstein

As we enter a new Jewish year, in a world still grappling with the impact of COVID-19, how will communities transform? We checked in with Spertus students and alumni to get their opinions. 

We asked these questions:

  • What excites you about the future? What can—or should—be different as we build Jewish communities for the future?

  • What did you learn at Spertus that helps to guide your work? 

With thoughtfulness and insight characteristic of Spertus Institute's community of learners, this is what they said.

Kelly Cohen

Reimagining Community: The silver lining of the past year for me has been the way that the pandemic has forced us to think differently about how we are connecting and engaging the Jewish community. We are just beginning to explore social media as a platform to amplify teen voices. As I bring this idea into my new role at Diller Teen Fellows, it is exciting to see the potential to connect Diller’s international teen network, create connections between them, and facilitate their impact on the world around them. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I don’t think we would be exploring this tool in the same way.

Spertus Impact: Spertus gave me the tools and the network of supportive colleagues to be an agent of change in these precarious times. I gained a deeper understanding of myself as a leader and developed skills and vocabulary to have an impact in my community.

Even with half of the program being virtual, I was able to build deep relationships with my cohort colleagues. This showed me what is possible in virtual learning and engagement.

Steve Greenwood, Executive Director, StandWithUs Canada. Executive MA in Jewish Professional Studies

Reimagining Community: My grandmother, well into her 80s, was determined to learn to use a computer and be able to email. We need to bring that drive to today’s frontiers of learning. We need to be hungry to create impact, make improvements, and find new ways.

I’d like see acceptance of new things, with inclusivity as the norm, with us not held back by physical boundaries or distance. It should become common to build connections and strengthen relationships, regardless of distance.

Spertus Impact: Spertus Institute launched me on a journey. I rekindled my zest for learning, met colleagues who shared a thirst for learning, and joined a community that continues to this day. I am a better professional, a more confident contributor, and a more polished advocate for Israel thanks to the material I studied.

Ellen Olshansky, Professor Emerita, University of California, Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing. MA in Jewish Studies.

Reimagining Community: I think it is the strong community connections that have me excited about the future. We can develop collaborations in a way that we could not imagine before. We must explore ways to develop global communities that can work together effectively and inclusively to address important issues related to tikkun olam, repair of the world. We can include interfaith organizations as well, building real human connections through technology.

Spertus Impact: An important consequence of my studying at Spertus is that I applied and have been accepted to ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, as a participant in their Rabbinic Ordination Program. These next steps that I am taking are a direct result of my education at Spertus. Being a graduate student at Spertus opened a whole new world for me. I am defining “retirement” as the opposite of “retiring,” but instead as a time of continued active learning, seeking, developing my spiritual self, and wrestling with ideas—the essence of Judaism. Spertus, for me, has meant having the privilege of being part of a community of motivated and committed learners.

Laurence Fhima, Executive Director and Principal, Ecole Maïmonide. Certificate in Jewish Leadership for Educators

Reimagining Community: Online teaching has transformed the way we used to teach in front of the students. It transformed our ways of reaching the students and the teachers had to adapt to the different needs of the students online. Schools will have to reimagine online learning and integrate it into their leadership structures and educational processes. Online education will be recognized as a source of academic continuity and revenue. Teachers have learned that they can reach students in school and at home, which has implications well beyond the pandemic. We can also share our learning with other schools, as we do with our sister school in Beer Sheva.

Spertus Impact: Spertus taught me many skills, among them resilience and patience as we navigated the strain of the pandemic and an increased workload. Spertus has taught me to be more assertive and confident in leading my staff. I learned that I had to be prepared to listen to my staff, be more empathetic and ready to help them go through some issues. It also taught me to have very crucial conversations with my staff when necessary. I adapted to having teachers teach with kids or dogs in the background. Spertus has given me the opportunity to grow and lead with empathy and a huge heart.

Yoel Dror, Rabbi. MA in Jewish Studies

Reimagining Community: I look forward to seeing community members in person! It must be said, however, that Zoom and other platforms have expanded our ideas of what is possible in terms of online Jewish content, communication, and connection. This is particularly true of Jewish education. While there were already wonderful programs in place for Jewish learning and dialogue, I’m curious to see how we can build upon our COVID-era experiences to expand what we can do. I also see social media as the new front for Israel activism and the fight against antisemitism.

Spertus Impact: As an educator in the field of history and other social sciences, the experience of being a student again has helped me become a better teacher. As a rabbi, I find that Spertus helped me to expand and deepen my understanding of Jewish history, culture, and experiences. This has helped me increase my repertoire and so as to play a part in advocating for a strong and viable Israel.

Sarah Cohn, Associate Director for Engagement and Wellness, Hillel International. MA in Jewish Professional Studies

Reimagining Community: I’ve appreciated spaces where the focus has been on coming together intentionally, with depth and ruach [spirit]. Gone are the days of banalities and surface-level connections; we’re now willing to dig deeper and bring more of ourselves into our communities. It's beautiful! That is most successful when we're focused on building inclusive, warm, and welcoming communities. I believe each individual and organization should challenge themselves to learn, grow, and address their inner biases in order to better welcome Jews and non-Jews of all backgrounds into our communities.

Spertus Impact: Spertus has given me the confidence to see myself as a leader. Rather than waiting on the sidelines for others to bring important topics to the table, I’m able to show up with ideas, issues, and solutions. I do so knowing that my ideas are grounded in theory, tradition, and understanding—and that I can innovate and push the boundaries. I joined Spertus not only to grow my knowledge, but also to extend my community. Not only am I close with my cohort and other students, but with the faculty, staff, and mentors as well. Spertus has connected me with an incredible group of people, and I'm proud to represent our community in the Jewish communal world, and see other "Spertans" shine.

Thursday, August 26, 2021