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Jewish Education: Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership, formerly the College of Jewish Studies and then the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, is a Chicago-based educational institute organized in 1924 by the Board of Jewish Education of Chicago to provide opportunities for systematic Jewish studies and for training teachers.

The Institute opened under the leadership of Alexander Dushkin, the executive director of the Board of Jewish Education, with five students, who met in rented quarters in different parts of the city. Dushkin later established the Department of Education at The Hebrew University. In 1935 Leo Honor, the college's administrator, succeeded Dushkin as director of the Board of Jewish Education with Samuel M. Blumenfield serving as registrar and, later, dean of the college. Under the leadership of Dr. Leo Honor and Rabbi Samuel Blumenfield, the identity of the college as a distinct institution began to emerge. In 1942, it was authorized to grant degrees by the Illinois Department of Education. As a result of the steady growth of the college, the Board of Jewish Education recommended that it become a separate corporation with its own board of governors. In 1945 the college was incorporated as a Not-for-Profit Illinois Corporation. In its charter, issued that year, the institutional mission was defined as "Maintaining and operating a College in which youths and adults may receive an education on a college and post graduate level in… any subject relating to Jews and Judaism." This represented an expansion of the college's original mission of being primarily a teachers' training institution. In 1946 it moved into its own building and expanded its program to include studies leading to the Bachelor of Hebrew Literature degree and teachers' diplomas. With the addition to the faculty of distinguished scholars from Europe and Israel, the college initiated graduate studies. Spertus College now offers eight post-graduate degrees, and through distance learning options serves students in 36 U.S. states and six foreign countries. The Spertus Center for Nonprofit Management provides working professionals with tools to succeed in the nonprofit and public service sectors, through its master's program and continuing education opportunities.

From the 1940s until the 1960s, the college served as the central institution in Chicago and in the American Midwest for the training of Jewish educators and as the central institution in Chicago for Hebrew culture, thereby expressing the ideology of Cultural Zionism that characterized its early history, programs, and curricula. By 1948, a department of graduate studies offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees had been initiated. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, cantors and choir directors were trained for synagogues through its Institute for Jewish Music. From 1965 the college has served other colleges and universities as a department of Judaic studies, in which students may pursue a major or minor curriculum as well as elective courses. From the 1940s until the mid-1960s, the college operated a summer camp, Camp Sharon, and initiated and substantially expanded continuing education programs in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Many renowned refugee scholars who migrated to America to escape Hitler served on the Spertus faculty during these years.

In 1968, Maurice Spertus donated his impressive collection of Jewish ceremonial objects to the college, thus beginning the Spertus Museum. In 1970, the College of Jewish Studies honored the outstanding and ongoing support of the families of Maurice and his brother Herman Spertus by changing its name to the Spertus College of Judaica. In 1974, Spertus moved to its present Michigan Avenue location. That same year, Norman and Helen Asher, recognizing the importance of a first class library, endowed what is now the Norman and Helen Asher Library, which contains more than 100,000 books. The Asher Library also includes the Targ Center for Jewish Music and the Chicago Jewish Archives.

In 1968, the College of Jewish Studies was officially separated from the Board of Jewish Education. Among the distinguished scholars who served on the faculty were Simon Halkin, Simon Rawidowicz, Meyer Waxman, Samuel Feigen, Moses Shulvass, Judah Rosenthal, and Byron Sherwin. Samuel B. Blumenfield was its first president, followed in 1954 by Abraham Duker, and in 1962, by David Weinstein. In 1984, Dr. Howard A. Sulkin became the organization's seventh president.

In 1971, Spertus College started the first college level course in the Midwest in Holocaust Studies, and in 1975 Spertus Museum created the Bernard and Rochelle Zell Holocaust Memorial, the first permanent Holocaust exhibition in North America, the centerpiece of the Bernard and Rochelle Zell Center for Holocaust Studies.

In 1987, Spertus College established The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center for the Study of Eastern European Jewry. Jointly sponsored with the Archdiocese of Chicago, the center is dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue and increased understanding between eastern European and Jewish communities.

In 1993, the Spertus College of Judaica officially became the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, reflecting its multidisciplinary identity. Along with the name change, reflecting its multifaceted approach to the study of Jewish culture, came a renewed declaration of institutional goals and new long term strategies on how to implement them.

In January 2013, the institute changed its name from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies to the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership