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Student & Alumni Spotlight

Student & Alumni Spotlight

Spertus Student Rachel Kesner
Makes Connections at Home and Abroad

By Brian Zimmerman for Spertus Institute

Like a lot of twenty-somethings fresh out of college, when Rachel Kesner graduated with a degree in English from the University of Indiana in 2009, she didn’t know what to do with her life.  But she did have a hunch.

She knew she loved Israel, having fallen in love with the country during trips in her early teens and later as a camp counselor with Kefiada, and she thought that maybe Israel would figure into her future. She had no idea that her passion for Israel would lead her toward a life of Jewish communal service and a career connecting Americans with the country that captured her heart.

Rachel now works as the Aliyah Coordinator for the Jewish Agency for Israel at the Israel Center in Skokie, where she prepares people who are planning or considering making Aliyah. But she likes to think of herself as more of a storyteller.

“Basically, I want to make people feel about Israel what I felt during my first visit — that sense of belonging. I want them to make the same meaningful connections, so I tell them stories, painting a realistic portrait of what it might be like to live there.”

Connections are at the core of Rachel’s job, and after two years in her position, she knew she needed to make more of them. Through online research, she found Spertus Institute’s Master of Arts in Jewish Studies Program, and was attracted to the program’s innovative mentorship component.

“I wanted something beyond just two years of education,” she said. “I wanted to become part of a network of Jewish professionals, and I knew that was something only Spertus could provide.”

Efficient as she is, Rachel’s decision to become a Spertus student happened quickly.

 “I called the Spertus enrollment recruiter on a Wednesday,” she said. “We met for a discussion over coffee on Thursday, and I was signed up for enrollment on Friday.”

Since starting the program, Rachel has found her education at Spertus extremely rewarding.

“This program has opened up so many doors for me,” she said. “The networking alone is priceless.”

Rachel also appreciates the MAJPS program’s flexible class schedule, which she says makes it a great choice for Jewish professionals. She also has high praise for the program’s affordability, saying that it was a major factor in her decision to apply. Most of all, however, Rachel loves the community the Spertus MAJPS program has built around her.

“It’s opened countless doors,” she said.

Clearly, her Spertus education is working. The valuable skills she’s learned at Spertus have carried over into her work life.

“I had a leadership class with Spertus CEO Hal M. Lewis,” she said. “I loved reading his book [From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership]. I’d go into work the next day and discuss it with my colleagues. In a way, I was teaching them.”

Rachel has taken to heart Spertus Institute’s message of leading for the future. Along with alumna Ali Drumm, Rachel is a founding co-chair of the Spertus MAJPS Student Alumni Association. She believes the strong bond this Association will create between current Spertus students and alumni will be integral to the growth and continuity of Jewish professional life in Chicago.

“Alumni are great for current students,” she said. “They’re resources for ideas, advice, texts, and inspiration, and their success is empowering.”

Rachel sees the Spertus MAJPS Student Alumni Association growing exponentially in the next few years, but right now she just wants to focus on the present.

“I really just want to create a successful alumni culture,” she said, “one in which alumni are eager to help former students.”

Still, she’s not above thinking big.

“If organizations are looking to hire,” she said, “I want them to look at the Spertus Student Alumni Association first. How cool would that be?”

When you donate to Spertus, you support opportunities for professionals like Rachel Kesner to grow their skills and give back to the community. To learn how you can help, contact Director of Development Nancy Glazer at or 312.322.1262.

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Students & Alumni on the Move

It is our pleasure to recognize
Spertus Institute students and
alumni on their recent promotions,
new positions, and other
achievements of note:

Sarah Elsner, MSNM alum 2013, to Development Manager, Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation

Arthur Bishop, MASHA alum 1989, to Director of Department of Children and Family Services, State of Illinois

Susan Baum, MSNM Class of 2007,
to Communications and Program Manager, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue

Amy Claver, MSNM Class of 2004,
to Senior Manager for Exhibits and Support, International Society for Stem Cell Research

Deborah Fidel, MAJPS Class of 2013—Pittsburgh cohort, to Executive Director, Temple Sinai

Derek Gale, Certificate of Jewish Leadership 2012, to Director of Financial Resource Development, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City

Brittney Harris, MSNM Class of 2013, Student Services Coordinator, Lincoln College of Technology

Channing Lenert, MSNM Class of 2014,
to Program Coodinator, Working in the Schools

Julie McKelphin, MSNM Class of 2012,
to Development Director, Action Now Institute

Steve LuhrsMSNM Class of 2012,
to Early Intervention Services Coordinator, Clearbrook

Nneka ObasiMSNM Class of 2012,
to Director of Development, International Aid, Inc.

Angelique Orr, MSNM Class of 2012,
to Senior Director of Economic Development Initiatives, Chicago
Urban League

Denise Rush, MSNM Class of 2009,
to Director of the Undergraduate Interior Design Program, Boston Architectural College

Student & Alumni Publications

Mazel Tov to Mara Cohen Loannides, DSJS Class of 2013, on the publication of Jews of Springfield in the Ozarks

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Ariel Stone, DJS Class of 2010, on the publication of Because All Is One (based on her doctoral dissertation)

Mazel Tov to Stefanie Pervos Bregman, MAJPS Class of 2012, on the publication of Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation.