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Opening doors, minds, and hearts

 Tani Prell takes regional helm of 18 Doors  

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A sense of belonging is an essential part of any community, and 18 Doors is dedicated to providing that feeling of inclusion for those seeking their place in the Jewish community.

The organization recently changed its name, from Interfaith Family. Its core mission of fostering the inclusion of such families in the larger Jewish community remains unchanged, but the new name recognizes that interfaith families are, themselves, diverse.

"We're here to uplift the diversity of the Jewish community, to make inclusion an interwoven part of Jewish life," explained Tani Prell, the new director of 18 Doors' Chicago office. "The growing diversity of the Jewish community includes that of the interfaith Jewish community," along every aspect of identity - diversity that 18 Doors recognizes as "as part of our larger web of inclusion."

While it has offices in cities across the U.S., Chicago's office is considered one of 18 Doors' "innovation hubs," along with those in Boston and Atlanta.

18 Doors works with individuals and couples from diverse backgrounds, helping them find their place in the Jewish community, and simultaneously works with community organizations to help them become more welcoming to people who have historically been marginalized.

Prell considers herself "a matchmaker" between couples and community organizations.

"We want to give people a space for belonging, and to see the thriving that happens when doors are open," she said. "We are open to partnering with anyone with whom we can foster Jewish inclusion, in ways that are meaningful to them," Prell said. "If you are a Jewish professional, I want to be talking to you."

18 Doors' partners range from OneTable, Honeymoon Israel and JCC Chicago to congregations nationwide. Others include Be'chol Lashon, which raises awareness about the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish identity, and Keshet, which equips Jewish organizations to make LGBTQ Jews feel welcome.

Additionally, 18 Doors runs Couples and Conversation, small-group sessions led by rabbis for interfaith couples at various stages in their relationships.

Prell is a veteran of the inclusion movement. While her immediate past position was with the Art Institute, she earlier served as director of Jewish Learning and Engagement at Emanuel Congregation in Edgewater. For that work, she was honored as one of JUF's 36 Under 36 in 2019.

Additionally, Prell is a National Board Trustee for the Union for Reform Judaism, and serves on their DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) lay taskforce. She has worked for inclusion in the arts community, the justice system, and Jewish summer camps.

Prell was raised in a Lutheran home. But, she said, "I knew for a long time that I was going to convert" to Judaism - which she did as an adult, at Anshe Emet Synagogue. She is also the child of an interracial marriage, and describes herself as a "black, Italian, German, Jewish woman."

One of her own first experiences with the wider world of diversity was at a Kabbalat Shabbat service, part of a conference on Loving Day, which celebrates the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia case legalizing interracial marriage.

"Now, I have a job that helps create such experiences for others," she said. "It's what I would be doing anyway, and that it's for the Jewish community is the cherry on top."

Find more information on 18 Doors at 18doors.org/chicago-local.



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