Its logo is a flame and the Hebrew words for "let there be light." Offering college courses, on-site and distance training for nonprofit professionals, a library and archives, public programming and a museum, the Spertus Institute continues to shine the light of social, cultural and academic engagement on more than 200,000 people annually.
That light was kindled in 1924 as the College of Jewish Studies, a night school offering three courses in conjunction with The Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago. The college adapted to changing times, evolving from a resource for immigrants to an institution promoting Hebrew culture and Cultural Zionism to an incubator for ideas and opportunities. When Maurice Spertus donated his vast holdings of Jewish ceremonial objects in 1968, the Spertus Institute was born. In the ensuing years, the educational arm was renamed Spertus College of Judaica and moved to a South Michigan Avenue building where the Norman and Helen Asher Library was founded.
The museum was the first institution to establish a permanent Holocaust exhibition in North America and the first in the Midwest to offer a college-level course in Holocaust Studies. Under Dr. Howard Sulkin's leadership in the 1980s, Spertus coalesced into a major Jewish cultural resource and educational center.
The new Spertus headquarters, a modernist landmark designed by Krueck and Sexton Architects, opened in 2007. Morning light pours into the sleek, angular 10-story structure, a striking building when viewed from Grant Park. Visitors can peruse art and cultural artifacts at the top floor Museum. Researchers explore Jewish history from antique civilizations to contemporary Chicago at the wi-fi-enabled Asher Library. Shoppers purchase unique Hannukah gifts at the Spertus Shop.
Annual memberships start at $40. Perks include access to library circulation and the E-Collection, discounts at the gift shop and cafe, special event invites and free admission to partner museums across the country. Be advised that the building closes early on Friday and remains shuttered through Saturday in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.
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