Israel: Many Voices

Storytelling and collaboration to bring our community closer

Israel: Many Voices photo
Storytellers (starting top left) Debi Lewis, Shaily Hakimian, Sarah Leibov, Bruce Ogron, Dina Elenbogen, Michael Simon, and Gili Sherman, with emcee Dan Tatar (bottom row, 2nd from the right) and director Scott Whitehair (bottom row, far right).

On May 21 in a conference center in Skokie, seven members of our community will take the stage to share stories of Israel. In doing so, they will be part of a tradition as old as Judaism.

They will also be part of the 21st-century storytelling wave, a trend manifest in the success of vehicles like the Moth Radio Hour -- which reaches more than a million listeners each week. This phenomenon recognizes the power of storytelling to educate, entertain, and build connections.

Titled Israel: Many Voices, Stories from and of the land, the May 21 event builds connections in another way, as well. More than 30 local Jewish organizations are involved in its presentation, representing a collaboration covering a wide sweep of the Chicago-area Jewish community. Spearheaded by Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership with funding from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the event is part of a larger project supporting Jewish learning for adults.

Israel: Many Voices begins at 3:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton - North Shore Conference Center. The Master of Ceremonies will be Dan Tatar, an actor, singer, producer, and director whose local stage credits include The Ballad of Little Jo (Steppenwolf Theatre), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Drury Lane Oakbrook), and Miss Saigon (Marriott Lincolnshire). His television credits include: CSI: NY, Grey's Anatomy, Real Time with BillMaher, and 90210. When not on stage or screen, Tatar serves on the senior leadership team of The iCenter, the national hub for building, shaping, and supporting the field of Israel Education.

After an open call for entries, the storytellers were selected by members of the program committee with assistance from Scott Whitehair, a two-time Moth Slam winner and creator of Story Lab Chicago. Whitehair, who produces This Much is True, a long-running storytelling series, will be leading workshop/rehearsals and directing the May 21 program.

The storytellers are Dina Elenbogen of Evanston; Shaily Hakimian of Chicago; Sarah Leibov of Wilmette; Debi Lewis of Evanston; Bruce Ogron of Highland Park; Gili Sherman of Wilmette; and Michael Simon of Evanston.

Elenbogen is an award-winning poet and prose writer, author most recently of Drawn from Water: an American Poet, an Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story. Hakimian is a social media specialist, event impresario, and LGBTQ advocate. Leibov is a writer and Feldenkrais instructor, whose essays have appeared in local publications including JUF News, as have those of educator/writer Sherman.

Lewis is a website designer and writer. Ogron is an employment attorney who teaches in Moriah Congregation's adult education program. Simon is the executive director of Northwestern Hillel and a former member of the Teach for America corps.

Describing the larger initiative of which this event is a part -- which includes a network for adult Jewish learning professionals and a forthcoming online community calendar and resource portal -- Dr. Dean Bell, Spertus Institute Provost and Vice President, said that the upcoming event kicks off a range of Israel-related programs that will be held over the next year as Israel's 70th anniversary approaches.

"We believe it matters why, what, how -- and certainly if -- members of our community continue to learn about Judaism and topics of Jewish interest. It matters to Jewish involvement and the health and vitality of Jewish life," he said.

Tickets for the May 21 event are $5 in advance and $10 at the door. The ticket prices includes Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvres before and after program. Advance tickets can be purchased online on the Spertus website at or by phone at (312) 322-1773.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Betsy Gomberg is the director of Marketing & Communications for Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

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