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Letter from Spertus President Dr. Hal M. Lewis

Letter from Spertus President Dr. Hal M. Lewis

Dear Members of the Spertus Family:

I am very pleased to share a series of changes designed to clarify our mission, focus our energies, and more sharply define our work.

The great management teacher Peter Drucker argued that the job of the Chief Executive Officer is to “bring the outside in,” to see reality not as one might like it to be, but as it is. For this reason, shortly after I became Spertus President (three and a half years ago), I embarked on a listening tour visiting as many people as possible who could help me understand how Spertus was viewed in our diverse communities. The feedback suggested that while individual Spertus users treasure our offerings, from public programs and collections to advanced degrees, many individuals were unaware of who we are and what we do. We had, as the experts would tell me, a branding problem that needed to be addressed.

Because I am skeptical of cynical efforts to manipulate public opinion, I was not interested in a campaign to help us spin our message. Rather than do the same thing just with better marketing, I wished instead to examine our deeply held values and evaluate each of our programmatic offerings. Today, following a reflective process that involved faculty and alumni, administrators, donors, and community representatives, we are in a position to communicate our work with clarity and purpose.

Building A Vibrant Jewish Community
At the heart of Spertus’ mission is a single core belief that has characterized the Jewish people for millennia. Simply stated, we believe that a learning Jewish community is a vibrant Jewish community.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) records a debate in which the rabbis argued the relative merits of learning versus doing. While some affirmed that Judaism is a religion of practice in which doing trumps learning, the majority of sages rejected such short-sightedness, and instead upheld the view of Rabbi Akiva that said, “Learning is better, for it leads to action.” Of all the commandments, taught the rabbis, talmud torah k’neged kulam—study and learning take precedence over all others.

Generations of Jews from moms and dads to entrepreneurs and artists have understood that quality Jewish life cannot be measured only by the number of organizational memberships we hold or the amount of money we raise. A vibrant Jewish community is one in which Jewish learning is diverse and expansive, compelling and inspiring, and not focused solely on educating the young. Like the emergency oxygen found in airplanes, if we want to help our children and grandchildren live vibrant Jewish lives, we must begin by taking care of our own needs to learn and to grow. 

And so at Spertus our work now focuses exclusively on learning for adults. Through classes and workshops, we empower young parents with the hands-on training they need to bring Judaism into their homes and enrich the lives of their children. Our mini-courses and suburban programming enable interfaith families the opportunity to explore Judaism in a non-denominational environment without prejudice or preconceptions. Our course workexhibits, and public programs offer a broad-continuum of dynamic learning opportunities that span the breadth of Jewish interests. Our impeccable collections accessible both electronically and on-site allow students, academics, and members of the general public the chance to enable their professional pursuits, enhance their scholarship, and excite their personal passions.

Strong Leaders Build Strong Communities
This link between learning and vibrancy compels us to affirm a corollary principle. At Spertus we know that strong leaders build and sustain strong communities. For this reason, Spertus will intensify our efforts to become the place for leadership training and development in the nonprofit sector on both the volunteer and professional level, within and beyond the Jewish community. We have laid the groundwork with our graduate programs in Jewish Professional Studies and Nonprofit Management, our cutting-edge work with professional mentoring, our unparalleled Certificate in Jewish Leadership with Northwestern University, and our spectacular public programs on topics of poignancy for today’s leaders.

Going forward, Spertus will introduce innovative academic concentrations to teach leadership to educators, youth workers, camp counselors, and early childhood professionals. Plans are currently underway for new programs in social entrepreneurship and lay leadership training. Major curricular revisions expanding internships and mentoring will be announced in the coming months that will further sharpen Spertus’ signature blend of theory and practice in nonprofit leadership education. And, as we have already begun to do on the topics of gender inequality and succession planning, we will intensify our work as a thought leader and convener in the field, publishing new works of popular and academic concern, hosting think tanks, and welcoming internationally acclaimed leadership experts to our faculty.

What’s In A Name?
As part of the effort to clarify and sharpen our mission, we have changed our name from Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies to Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. This change embodies our new focus and direction. While “Institute of Jewish Studies” connotes passivity, elitism, and distance, “Institute for Jewish Learning” is active, expansive, inclusive, and accessible. We continue to treasure our academic reputation and the impressive credentials of our professors, but we also believe that Jewish learning takes place in a multiplicity of ways and in a diversity of settings.

The addition of the words “and Leadership” following “Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning” highlights our conviction that a vibrant Jewish community and a world-class city require first-rate leaders. In an era in which so many institutions cry out for ethical, competent, and inspiring leaders, Spertus is educating and training volunteer board members and executives, fundraisers, programming specialists, clergy, educators, journalists, and academics with the skills they need to transform nonprofit organizational life now and for generations to come.

In Judaism, changing a name is a daunting responsibility. Such changes occur only rarely, they are never capricious or cosmetic. A changed name signifies a changed essence. So too in our case. Today and in the years ahead, Spertus affirms our dedication and commitment to the creation of vibrant communities through dynamic adult learning and the development of future leaders. We are proud to be Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Dr. Hal M. Lewis
President and CEO
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

I would very much like to hear what you think about this change in nomanclature, focus, and direction. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook page or via Twitter, or to email me directly at

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dr. Hal M. Lewis

Dr. Hal M. Lewis is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. A recognized expert on Jewish leadership, he has published widely in the scholarly and popular press. His books include Models and Meanings in the History of Jewish Leadership and From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership. He can be reached at