Meet Essie Shachar-Hill, Chicago’s first full-time Keshet change-maker

Chicago’s first full-time Keshet trainer and educator brings leadership chops, a deep commitment to social change, and a love of bagels to new role

It’s been a whirlwind few years here at Keshet. In the past year alone, we’ve launched new teen leadership programs, mobilized a Jewish community campaign to protect the rights of transgender Americans, and continued to expand our signature work training Jewish leaders on how to make their institutions more inclusive.

In Chicago, the expansion of our work has reached another exciting milestone: the addition of a full-time staff member dedicated to advancing LGBTQ equality in the Chicago Jewish community. 

Essie Shachar-Hill, who recently came on board as Keshet’s first full-time Education and Training Manager in Chicago, is thrilled to expand our critical work.“Keshet has a phenomenal, effective model of institutional change that empowers Jewish organizations to widen their tents, welcome more people, and raise consciousness around LGBTQ inclusion,” Essie said. “I’m thrilled to be part of bringing this to more organizations locally.”

A Midwest native, Essie is especially eager to make inroads for LGBTQ inclusion in their home region.

“People have this idea that Chicago is such a liberal place, and there aren’t any issues of people not feeling included. Many well-meaning institutions think that saying “everyone is welcome here” is enough. It’s not! I’m excited for Jewish Chicago to continue to do the internal work of meeting the needs of LGBTQ folks, and then explicitly sharing that message,” Essie said.

“We heard repeatedly from leaders of Chicago Jewish institutions that they wanted support and resources to promote LGBTQ equality and inclusion,” added Idit Klein, Keshet President and CEO. “Chicago is a major city with a large Jewish population. It was clear that there was a lot of potential and opportunity here.”

Through trainings for audiences from clergy and synagogue staff, to Jewish educators, to social service providers, to parents of kindergarteners, Essie is already hard at work guiding Chicago Jewish leaders and institutions in creating more LGBTQ inclusive programs, policies, and cultures.

“One misconception about inclusion work is that there’s a checklist, or a one-and-done way to be inclusive. But LGBTQ inclusion is a continuous journey that organizations need to keep addressing and adapting to,” Essie said. 

That’s why in November 2018, Essie helped launch the Chicagoland Keshet Leadership Project, with 22 local organizations participating in the inaugural cohort. The year-long program equips participating organizations to critically examine their policies, programming, and culture and to take tangible steps to becoming more LGBTQ-inclusive in these areas. 

In addition to running trainings, Essie is also busily networking and spreading the word about Keshet’s new Chicago resources.

“Lots of folks know Keshet is here, but many don’t! So I’m working on getting our name out there and letting people know that I’m here to help. Many communities are already thinking about LGBTQ inclusion, but don’t quite know where to start. I’m trying to connect with those communities to assess and meet their needs,” Essie said.

When they aren’t helping build a stronger and more inclusive Jewish Chicago, Essie—a licensed social worker—also works as the Maggie’s Place Specialist at Mishkan Chicago, and runs an online group called Tzelem for trans and nonbinary Jewish teens across the country. 

It might be hard to see where free time fits into such a busy schedule, but when their schedule permits, Essie loves to unwind with baking, printmaking, studying Talmud, and trying to keep up with two book clubs. 

A devout bagel-lover, they are also always looking for an opportunity to enjoy the delicious Jewish staple. “When I was in college, I coordinated an event called ‘Bagels and Schmear with your Fellow Queer,’ Essie said.

If that’s not qualification enough… what is?

For more information on Keshet’s work in Chicago, contact Essie at essie.shachar.hill@keshetonline.org or 617.524.9227 ext. 125.

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