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Letter from the President — Summer/Fall 2019

Letter from the President — Summer/Fall 2019

Many Meanings of Community
Letter from Dr. Dean P. Bell

Dear Friends:

Each year Spertus Institute identifies a catalyzing theme that addresses important issues in our educational offerings. This year’s coalescing theme is “community,” a concept that is incredibly complex—perhaps increasingly so—and exceedingly important. Community is difficult to describe, construct, or engage. Indeed, it is impossible to speak of community in the singular, as we all connect with multiple communities, some that overlap and others that seem to have little in common.

Last fall, Spertus, along with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC), launched a Global Jewish Leadership Certificate. Young Jewish communal professionals came to Spertus from countries across Europe and the former Soviet Union to learn with us and each other. During a session on models of community, we learned that just as the words for community vary in different languages—reflecting linguistic roots and associations—the meaning of community also varies. Is community a group of people with similar interests, practices, or values? Is it individuals who live in close proximity? Is it defined by members or someone else? Is it about formal organizations and infrastructure? Does it change over time? Is it altered by context?

Community… should be considered a verb and not a noun.

Although community meant something different to each of our participants, its value was never insignificant. However defined, it clearly relies on relationships.

A recent theorist noted: “community is never a fixed state, rightly it should be considered a verb and not a noun, and it is always the outcome of sociality as an action…it is therefore impossible to perform without the presence of other people” (David Studdert from Conceptualising Community: Beyond the State and Individual, 2).

At Spertus, we are committed to developing and fostering community through a welcoming, pluralistic educational environment and a commitment to address concerns faced by the many communities with which we interact —across Chicago, and, increasingly, around the world. With programs that explore urgent contemporary questions, bring people with diverse perspectives into conversation, and build professional networks, Spertus creates communities. We “do” community (if it indeed can be a verb)—even as we examine its nature and needs for today and the future.

I hope you will take advantage of the many offerings here at Spertus and help us to foster community, for we are convinced that a vibrant Jewish community is a learning community.

Best wishes,






Dr. Dean P. Bell
President, CEO, and Professor of Jewish History
Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership


Friday, August 9, 2019

Dr. Dean P. Bell, Spertus Institute

Dr. Dean P. Bell

The Global Jewish Leadership Seminar was launched last year by Spertus Institute in partnership with the JDC, funded by Carol and Ed Kaplan, with JUF as a coordinating partner. The program continues this fall with a new group of participants from Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America (where Spertus is expanding its leadership training opportunities).

Photos top left by Aleya Cydney Photography.