Jewish community finds leadership training and support in an MA program

Jewish community finds leadership training and support in an MA program
Jewish community finds leadership training and support in an MA program

The work of Jewish community professionals has become significantly more demanding since October 7, as heightened concerns about anti-Semitism, security and conflict resolution have been added to the already challenging work of community building.

“Jewish professionals have been under constant stress since October 7,” said Keren E. Fraiman, dean and academic director of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. “Leaders are very lonely, especially now.”

That’s why now is an excellent time for members of the Jewish community to invest in themselves and their careers, Fraiman said.

The Chicago-based Spertus Institute offers a Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies (MAJPS) tailored to the busy schedules of community professionals and includes both online and in-person components. There are still a few spots available for the class beginning this fall.

The MA program not only provides students with the opportunity to develop new skills and expand their professional network, but also a safe space for future Jewish leaders to learn and grow together while advancing their careers.

The Spertus Institute was founded in Chicago to serve as a non-denominational training facility for Jewish educators and community professionals. (Source: Maggie Russo)

After October 7

“Immediately after October 7, we found with last year’s cohort of community professionals that it was actually invigorating for them to take the time to learn, reflect and connect with other community professionals,” Fraiman said. “Many students found that learning increased their emotional bandwidth and gave them tools and skills to go back and do more for their communities.”

The Spertus Institute’s MAJPS program combines nonprofit management with Jewish studies and leadership training. Two tracks are available: a 30-month MA program for Jewish professionals and an 18-month accelerated Executive MA program for professionals with at least 12 years of professional experience.

Classes are held online, with one or two in-person classes per year in Chicago. Tuition for the entire MA program can be as low as $10,000 after scholarships and grants. Spertus is currently accepting applications for both programs.

The nonprofit courses cover advanced topics in management, planning, budgeting and donor relations, while the Jewish studies courses include studies of anti-Semitism and history, leadership and values. Fraiman herself teaches courses on learning organizations, conflict management and the complexities of modern Israel.

Typical candidates may work in Jewish day schools, Jewish federations, Hillels, JCCs, summer camps, foundations, or other Jewish nonprofit organizations.

“Every single course I took was relevant to my career,” said Alexis Doctor, a recent MAJPS graduate who enrolled in the program after working for Vancouver’s Jewish community for 20 years. “The combination of business topics related to Jewish nonprofit management and expanded knowledge of Jewish history was right up my alley.”

The doctor said she had always been interested in pursuing higher education to advance her career, but was unsure how to go about it. A colleague recommended she pursue an MBA, but the doctor wanted higher education in the Jewish professional field.

The MAJPS program at Spertus has become one of the most rewarding activities of her career, Doctor said. Through strategic management courses, she learned how nonprofit funding works, developed tools to advocate for Jews in her community in the face of anti-Semitism, and found ways to lead complex conversations about controversial issues in her community — and help others do the same.

Fraiman said the program also helps professionals identify new opportunities in the Jewish world.

“Some of our students started their careers in a particular place because they enjoyed working with the Jewish community, but after a few years they felt like they were stuck,” Fraiman said. “When they join our program, a whole new world suddenly opens up for them.”

According to Fraiman, over 80% of graduates receive a promotion or salary increase within a year of completing the program, often while they are still in the program.

Audra Kaplan, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and interim director of community health and inclusion at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, said participating in the program last year had a grounding effect on her amid all the challenges that piled up after Oct. 7.

“It was very healing. We were able to talk about how the situation affected us and focus on using the experience to grow as leaders,” said Kaplan, who earned a MAJPS executive education degree. “The professors helped us process the experience and provided a safe environment for us to share our feelings.”

MAJPS cohorts typically consist of 12 to 15 students from across North America, spanning the entire Jewish spectrum of observances and denominations. Applications are still being accepted for the next fall cohort. Interested candidates can contact Amie Barrish at [email protected] or visit

The Spertus Institute, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, was founded in Chicago as a nondenominational training facility for Jewish educators and Jewish community professionals. It offers a wide range of master’s and doctoral programs in Jewish studies accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the largest regional accrediting body in the United States.

Especially now, it also offers professionals from the Jewish community the opportunity to advance their careers in a supportive Jewish environment.

“I would recommend anyone who wants to pursue a career as a Jewish professional to take this program,” Doctor said. “I wish I had done this 10 years ago.”

This article is sponsored and produced in partnership with the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, a Chicago-based institution of higher Jewish education dedicated to practical implementation. This story was created by JTA’s native content team.

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