Many voices—sharing stories of Israel and creating opportunities to learn

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Back row from left: Dr. Dean P. Bell, Bruce Ogron, Dan Tatar, Michael Simon, and Scott Whitehair. Front row: Gili Sherman, Dina Elenbogen, Debi Lewis, Sarah Leibov, and Shaily Hakimian. Photo credit: Dan Rest.

There are so many different ways for Jews to experience Israel. And recently, seven local storytellers took to the stage to share their own personal stories about Israel: Many Voices , a sold-out storytelling event. More than 200 people witnessed a rare opportunity for collaboration among a diverse group of 36 Chicago-area Jewish organizations. Held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Skokie in May, the program was presented by the Chicago Adult Jewish Learning Initiative, a project spearheaded by Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership and supported by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

Setting the stage for Chicago's upcoming commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, Israel: Many Voices built upon an inaugural event last year examining resilience through a Jewish lens.

Israel: Many Voices focused on the diversity of Israeli society and the multi-dimensional nature of Israel-Diaspora relations. Extending beyond the typical limited emphases on Middle East politics and religious tensions, the program portrayed a varied and richly nuanced Israel. The stories ran the gamut: family dynamics, diverse religious and world-views, Israel's agriculture and economy, battling negative representations of Israel, the experiences of minority groups such as Ethiopians and Bedouins, and the impact of love and loss .

The following people shared their stories: Dina Elenbogen (Evanston), Shaily Hakimian (Chicago), Sarah Leibov (Wilmette), Debi Lewis (Evanston), Bruce Ogron (Highland Park), Gili Sherman (Wilmette), and Michael Simon (Evanston). After an open call for entries, they were chosen by a review committee that included representatives from seven of the sponsoring organizations-the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago, the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, Grandparents for Social Action, the iCenter for Israel Education, JCC Chicago, JUF, and Spertus Institute. 

  • The selected storytellers participated in training sessions with Scott Whitehair, Moth Slam winner, creator of Story Lab Chicago , and producer of  This Much is True , a long-running storytelling series. Emcee Dan Tatar, an accomplished actor/singer/producer and now a member of the senior leadership team of the iCenter, added his own story about the broad range of Israeli life and its place in Jewish identity.

Audience members were invited to share their own stories on vintage postcards of Israel. Selections from these, along with resources compiled by the staff of Spertus Institute's Asher Library and video excerpts of the program, are available on the Spertus website.

Israel:Many Voices was part of Adult Jewish Learning Initiative. Begun with a grant from the Community Foundation for Jewish Education, the initiative provides regular opportunities for professionals, lay leaders, and educators to convene, learn, and collaborate. An online portal-to be called GPS for Jewish Learning -is scheduled to go live this fall. It will host resources for program planners, Jewish content for adult learners, and a community-wide calendar. 

For more information, visit

Dr. Dean P. Bell is Provost and Vice President at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. He has been key to the development of the Adult Jewish Learning Initiative.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving
our community. 

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