It didn’t hit me that I had accomplished something really big in my life until I was sitting in a chair, wearing my cap and gown, and listening to commencement speeches. On December 8, 2019, I received my Master’s Degree in Jewish Professional Studies from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. I celebrated this momentous event with my sisters, nephews, one of their girlfriend’s, dear friends from childhood, and some very special new friends.
The serendipitous path began several years ago when my hobbies just weren’t filling the empty and rare spaces outside of my work life. I have been a calligrapher for over 50 years and a Mosaic tile artist for the past 12 years. I’ve not abandoned these activities, but I just wanted more. A friend of mine was sharing her enlightening experience with her Master’s program at the University of Dayton and that just felt like a path I wanted to travel. I was thinking about getting a master’s degree in Communication, and began researching my options.
But fate, and a tricky friend, intervened. Before I even submitted my application to UD, I was sharing my new adventure plans with my friend and colleague at a National Federation Professionals Conference over a few drinks and appetizers. When I told her about my desire to go for an advanced degree – at the tender age of 62 – she was all for it. What I didn’t know is that she proceeded to put my name on a list at the Spertus table (located outside our meeting rooms) requesting more information. A week after the conference ended, I received a call from the Director of Enrollment at Spertus to tell me about a wonderful program for an Executive Masters in Jewish Professional Studies.
Would I get accepted? This thought crept into my psyche at each step of the process. Getting transcripts from college where I graduated with a Business degree in 1980 was daunting – at first. It’s so easy now with the internet. The next task required getting a letter of reference. Asking my dearest mentor also brought on the nerves, but the letter was a big confidence booster. I then had to participate in a “Skype” interview with the head of the program and the Academic Dean. I was elated when the letter of acceptance arrived.
I hadn’t been in an academic setting for almost 40 years. I just forged forward and began the class requirements. Little did I know that I would be reading many books, journals, articles, and essays of very brilliant Jewish scholars and management leaders from all around the country. Another requirement that I didn’t know was in my future involved the writing of a plethora of papers – from 3 pages to 50 pages.
The best thing about pursuing this degree is that I’ve developed a need for less sleep as I’ve gotten older. Therefore, my most favorite study time was from 5:00am-7:00am.
Here are some of the treasures I took away from the experience. I absolutely loved the classes and the learning. Half of the classes were specifically related to Jewish history, text study, culture and behavior, including a fresh new look at Israel. The other half of my classes focused on specific leadership and advanced management skills and professionalism. Click here for more information on the curriculum and program aspects.
In addition to the wonderful classes taught by esteemed faculty in the field, we had the opportunity to receive coaching from experienced mentors in a related professional path to our own. My fabulous coach was a previous CEO of a large federation, and is also on the faculty of Spertus. We spent many hours exploring how I personally could grow each day in my professional life.
The final and most challenging experience was writing my Capstone paper. This 50 page (minimum) paper was assigned to explore an idea specific to my current professional environment. For over 30 years I have been passionately engaged in Jewish communal service as part of a Jewish federation, or integrated federation that included either a Jewish Family Services or JCC. The future of the federation movement is of great importance to me – and I have some ideas what that innovative future looks like. It is my pleasure to share those ideas with you. My Capstone project can be found here. It’s long but if you want to quickly “jump to the chase” go to page 33 for my proposed innovative path for a great future of the federation movement and JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America).
I am beyond grateful to the faculty and staff at Spertus for their brilliance and support. This degree was also made financially possible with the help of a national foundation whose generous subsidy made tuition affordable. I also sincerely thank so many in the Dayton Jewish community for encouragement in this process. I feel more prepared to provide exceptional leadership for a community I have come to love and call home. Thank you as well to my fellow classmates, commencement speakers, and my dear friends and family for making me feel so proud of this accomplishment.
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