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Spertus Student Rachel Kesner Makes Connections at Home and Abroad

Spertus Student Rachel Kesner Makes Connections at Home and Abroad

By Brian Zimmerman for 
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

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 Professional 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?”


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Brian Zimmerman
Brian Zimmerman