Sallie E. Gratch aims to live life by caring for others and making the world a better place.
Gratch, a social worker, is the founder of Project Kesher (“Kesher” means “connection” in Hebrew), a nonprofit organization devoted to building Jewish community and advancing women in civil society. Today, it focuses on women living in Belarus, Russia, Israel and Ukraine, including those countries to which Ukrainian women have fled the war.
The idea for Project Kesher emerged from Gratch’s involvement as a participant and staff member with International Peace Walk 1987–88, and as an organizer of two consecutive peace walks in the Soviet Union. During these walks and her subsequent visits, Gratch heard again and again from Soviet Jews of their urgent desire to reconnect with their Judaism and remain in their home countries. She founded Project Kesher in 1989 in response. In 1991, she lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she cultivated trust and built credibility in Project Kesher. In 1996, she organized the International Conference of Jewish Women in Kyiv, Ukraine, marking the entrance of Project Kesher on the world stage.
For more than three decades, Project Kesher has been training activists, creating an effective grassroots network and promoting social justice across all communities. Since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine one year ago, Project Kesher has provided vital humanitarian goods and services to those living in that country, joining with other NGOs to maximize the effectiveness of their work, such as purchasing and delivering generators to institutions and families; providing infant products to new mothers; and hiring buses to transport women and their children to safety, within or outside of the country.
Gratch also participated in the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament from Los Angeles (Gratch joined in Cleveland) to Washington, D.C., stopping frequently along the way to speak at synagogues. Her anti-nuclear activism was inspired, in part, by a vivid dream of nuclear annihilation. She awoke to the liberating realization that there was still time to make a difference.
Gratch is a veteran peace activist who displays “Wage Peace” signs on her home and buttons on her clothing. In Chicago in the mid-2000s, she spearheaded a soft protest of the Iraq war. With the help of many collaborators, including members of her synagogue, she placed thousands of toy soldiers bearing the message “Bring me home” in grocery stores, bookstores, any available shelf … anywhere.
Raised in Chicago, she earned a Bachelor of Science from Simmons College in 1957 and, two years later, an MSW from Simmons School of Social Work. In 1975, she completed the program at the Family Institute of Chicago. Her career in social work/family therapy included consulting in public and private schools, as well as private practice.
She and her husband, Alan, have lived in Evanston, Ill., for decades and are longtime members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, where she chaired the Peace Committee for many years. Alan has served as a past president.
Gratch has three children: Brian Gratch (z”l), Joel Gratch and Mikel Charlton. She has 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Keter Shem Tov, The Crown of a Good Name
The Keter Shem Tov Award recognizes distinction in scholarship or community service in the pursuit of Reconstructionist ideals, and is offered to an individual of the highest regard. The honor takes its name from Pirkei Avot 4:17: “Rabbi Shimon says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship, but the crown of a good name [keter shem tov] rises above them all.”
The 2023 Keter Shem Tov Award is presented to Sallie E. Gratch.