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Community Across Borders

Community Across Borders


Community Across Borders
Eight Days of International Jewish Learning in Chicago

By Jessica Leving

It’s not every day I find myself on a boat on the Chicago River with new friends from 19 different countries—let alone new Jewish friends who hail from as far south as Buenos Aires and as far north as the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

But there I was, with Fellows from the Kaplan Leadership Initiative, in Chicago for the Global Jewish Leadership Seminar, a JDC program presented in partnership with Spertus Institute and the Jewish United Fund of Chicago. This unique training program brings together Jewish community professionals from YESOD Europe, LE’ATID Latin America, and the former Soviet Union for hands-on learning and community building. The initiative was envisioned and is sponsored by Chicagoans Edward and Carol Kaplan. This year's Fellows represent communities with combined Jewish populations of more than two million.

From orthodox rabbis to progressive Jewish LGBTQ advocates, with a wide variety of native languages and customs, it might seem we had little in common besides our shared Jewish heritage. But as we huddled below deck on that blustery morning, taking selfies through the windows and answering questions about each other’s lives, it became clear that we are all part of one global Jewish community. We all wonder how to meaningfully engage our constituents. We all worry about antisemitism. And we all wished we had worn warmer coats!

Lonnie Nasatir, Dean P. Bell, Kaplan FellowsIn a presentation to the group later in the week, Lonnie Nasatir, President of the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, posed the questions: “How can we make our relationships more sticky? How can we make them stronger?” One way is to spend eight solid days together, digging into important topics with esteemed Spertus professors, sharing successes and challenges, and eating every kind of kosher food the city has to offer.

I was touched by my new international hevre’s stories of Jewish life in Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

“People ask me why I don’t move, or make aliyah. But I don’t want to be a Jew just anywhere. I am Polish. I want to be a Jew in Poland. It’s my home,” said Aleksandra Sajdak, for instance, during one of the facilitated discussions.

Site visits, Kaplan Leadership Seminar, ChicagoIn addition to working with facilitors, faculty, and each other, the Fellows visited with local organizations doing important work: One group followed a community and social services track, with visits to The ARK, JUF’s Uptown Cafe, and SketchPad. A second focused on inclusive Judaism, with visits to Chicago Jewish Day School, Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, and Mishkan. A third focused on inclusivity and equality, visiting with Keshet LGBTQ, JCFS’ Abe and Ida Cooper Center, and Libenu. As the Fellows learned about these organizations, they engaged in important discussions on core community issues and made connections that will serve as resources for their work back home.

Kaplan Fellows, Carol KaplanKaplan FellowsOn their final evening, the Fellows received Spertus Institute Certificates in Global Jewish Leadership, recognizing their new expertise and celebrating their new connections.

What a special experience to be a part of—I can’t wait to find a reason to visit them in their own countries soon!

Kaplan Leadership Fellows, Chicago


Author Jessica Leving (far right in the red coat) is Spertus Institute’s Manager of Communications & Community Relations. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Images from top

Boat ride. Photo by Barry Kafka.

JUF President Lonnie Nasatir with Dr. Dean P. Bell. Photo by Joe Underbakke (left) and JDC Trustee and Kaplan Fellows, Spertus Institute in the background. Photo by Dogs + Not Dogs Photography.

Kaplan Fellows. Photo by Joe Underbakke (left) and donor Carol Kaplan speaking to the Fellows at a dinner in their honor. Photo by Dan Rest.

Spertus President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell on a site visit with Fellows. Photo by Dogs + Not Dogs Photography.

JDC Program Coordinator and Interpreter Marina Gatskan, Spertus Institute Coordinator of Mentoring & Executive Coaching Brooke Herszage, and JDC Kaplan Program Manager Shai Kidishman (left) and Fellows Julia Oisboit from Kaliningrad and Dalia Felming from London. Photos by Joe Underbakke.

Kaplan Fellows and members of the Spertus staff and faculty. Photo by Dogs + Not Dogs Photography.


Global Jewish Leadership Seminar
Spertus Institute | Chicago

Together with our colleagues from the JDC, Spertus Institute was thrilled to welcome this year’s participants in the Kaplan Leadership Initiative, a training program for overseas Jewish community professionals. Participants came from 31 cities in 19 countries, representing communities with combined Jewish populations of 2 million.

This JDC global program is run in coordination with Jewish United Fund of Chicago and made possible by a generous grant from Edward and Carol Kaplan. Leadership training is provided by Spertus Institute alongside JDC staff and professional experts.