On Sunday, February 7, 2010, Dr. Hal M. Lewis was officially invested as the eighth president of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, an organization that has been an integral part of the Jewish, educational, and cultural communities in Chicago and throughout the United States since 1924. This is the first inauguration of a new Spertus president in over 20 years. The event, entitled A Celebration of Jewish Learning and Leadership, was attended by Spertus students, alumni, supporters, and staff, as well as leading members of Chicago’s Jewish, academic, cultural, civic, and philanthropic communities.
In his inaugural address, Dr. Lewis spoke of the opportunities and challenges ahead for Spertus. He began with the preface “that times of great upheaval demand a willingness to change.” With this construct in mind, he shared his vision for Spertus as “a dynamic 21st-century center where adults of all ages and backgrounds can, through a multiplicity of offerings, encounter the magnificence and diversity of the Jewish experience, and, then, through their efforts, inspire others.” (Read or listen to Dr. Lewis's remarks.)
He addressed the financial challenges that Spertus—and many organizations like it—face today, as he shared plans to enhance the Institute’s stability with a new organizational model. This model brings together the strengths and resources of the three divisions that have comprised Spertus since the 1970s: Spertus College, Spertus Museum, and the Asher Library. The new integrated Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies will take advantage of the core competencies and capacities of the organization’s faculty, staff, collections, and resources, as it continues to “passionately serve a diversity of learners through a variety of portals—from graduate degrees to arts and cultural programming.”
Looking to the years ahead, Dr. Lewis said: “Through enhanced use of technology and strategic collaboration we will expand and disseminate our classes and programming beyond these walls to serve the Jewish communities across greater Chicago, and, over time, across North America.” He emphasized that “All who wish to access the breadth and depth of the Jewish experience have a treasured place at Spertus.”
In addition to Dr. Lewis’ investiture, the ceremony included commencement for 15 graduates of the first cohort of Spertus’ Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies. These graduates, many of them young professionals doing impressive and sometimes groundbreaking Jewish community work, serve important organizations across the spectrum of 21st-century Jewish life. The organizations served by students in this program range from youth programs (such as Camp Ramah, Camp Chi, Hillels of Illinois, and the Jewish Student Union) to synagogues (such as Congregation Beth Shalom, Moriah Congregation, and North Suburban Synagogue Beth El) to advocacy organizations (such as the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs). They include established institutions that have long served as anchors of the Jewish community (such as the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Union of Reform Judaism) to newer, innovative projects (such as PresenTense and Kfar Jewish Arts Center).
These students were joined by graduates from Spertus Institute’s acclaimed Masters and Doctoral programs in Jewish Studies.
Graduates and attendees had a special opportunity to hear a keynote address by Brandeis University professor Dr. Jonathan Sarna entitled Jewish Communal Responsibility: An Endangered Jewish Value? Dr. Sarna is a leading professor of American Jewish History and was recently named one of America’s most influential Jews by The Jewish Daily Forward.
Further representing the richness of the Jewish experience, a Doctor of Hebrew Letters Honoris Causa was presented to tenor Alberto Mizrahi, Hazzan (Cantor) of Chicago’s historic Anshe Emet Synagogue and one of the world’s leading interpreters of Jewish music. Hazzan Mizrahi has shared the stage with such musicians as Dave Brubeck and Theodore Bikel and has performed with organizations including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and the Jerusalem Symphony. Hazzan Mizrahi gave an acceptance performance (instead of remarks) with musical selections inspired by Mishna Pe’ah 1:1 and Talmud: Shabbat 127a.
Guests of note included Alderman Robert Fioretti of Chicago’s Second Ward; Rabbi Dr. Jerold Isenberg, Chancellor, Hebrew Theological College; Dr. George Litman, President, National-Louis University; Judy Mars Kupchan, Director of the North American Division, Florence Melton Adult Mini-School; Rev. Donald Senior, President, Catholic Theological Union; Richard Skolnik, International President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Emily Soloff, Associate Director for Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, American Jewish Committee. Colleagues from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago included Chairman David Sherman and Executive Vice Presidents Dr. Peter Friedman and Dr. Michael C. Kotzin.
The program was followed by a reception generously sponsored by Wolfgang Puck Catering, which partners with Spertus to provide gourmet kosher catering for meetings, fundraisers, and celebrations—at the award-winning Spertus facility and throughout the Chicago area.
About Dr. Hal M. Lewis
Dr. Hal M. Lewis is a recognized authority on leadership, particularly on the unique needs of 21st-century Jewish organizations. He is the author of Models and Meanings in the History of Jewish Leadership and From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership and has published widely on leadership in both the popular press and scholarly journals. Dr. Lewis joined the Spertus staff in 2002 as Dean of Public Programming and Continuing Education, but his connections to Spertus began years earlier, as he pursued and earned his Doctor of Jewish Studies degree from Spertus. In November 2008, Dr. Lewis was appointed Senior Vice President / Chief Operating Officer. In June 2009, the Board of Trustees of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies elected him to the position of President and CEO. Before coming to Spertus, Dr. Lewis served as the President and CEO of the Columbus Jewish Federation, as executive director of a major synagogue in Cincinnati, and executive director of the American Sephardi Federation, based in New York.
About Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
Founded more than 80 years ago as Chicago’s College of Jewish Studies, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies today offers an innovative, non-denominational array of specialized and public programming, grounded in Jewish thought, inspired by Jewish values, and resolutely relevant to people’s lives.
Each year Spertus enrolls approximately 350 students from across Chicago and—through its innovative distance learning offerings—from 36 U.S. states and nine foreign countries. Spertus also serves thousands of learners each year through engaging public programs, high-quality continuing education offerings, and a range of collections-based exhibitions and resources.
Spertus is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.