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Two names for one place: Holy Name could go by “SEVEN30”

11-23-07 The new Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies 610 s Michigan. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

11-23-07 The new Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies 610 s Michigan. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: November 9, 2012 6:16AM

A building in Chicago having two identities is nothing new. The Wrigley Building has two addresses, reflecting the fact that it is actually two separate buildings, built at different times. As is the City Hall/County Building, which looks like one enormous block square structure, but is actually two buildings, built separately — first the county, which was nearly done and occupied before City Hall was built (the County Building — and this is one of those facts every Chicagoan should know — despite being an exact mirror of City Hall, cost 50 percent more to construct, a reminder that whatever you can say about corruption and incompetence in the county, it isn’t a new invention).

We’re so used to it, we hardly even notice. Few walk up to Macy’s State Street store and wonder why all these big bronze plaques announce something called “Marshall Field’s,” though that will happen more as Field’s, green shopping bags, and the whole shebang slowly disappears amongst the puffs of tissue paper crumpled in our gift box of memory.

I’m not sure if this reaches the level of notable Chicago building dualities, but I’ve told the story a few times in the past week, and people seem surprised and amused, so maybe it will surprise and amuse you too.

Last year, a pal invited me to go see “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” a documentary film being debuted at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue. I went, mingled, munched on hors d’ouevres, enjoyed the movie.

Last week, another pal invited me to go see “Ethel” — a documentary about Ethel Kennedy — at Venue SIX10. Which I had never heard of before, so I jumped online to try to figure out what and where it is: “Venue SIX10 operates within an environmentally sustainable building that features state-of-the-art resources and thoughtful amenities for elegant dinners, private receptions and creative corporate events...” it begins, with color photos of folks ... well, I can’t tell what they’re doing, standing behind glass, probably have a good time.

So I noted the address — 610 S. Michigan — and after work hoofed over there. As I strolled down Michigan, I wondered why I had never heard of Venue SIX10. It seemed odd, to have such a large, modern facility right on Michigan, yet one I had never heard of or been to. Only after I arrived at I 610 S. Michigan did I realize: Venue SIX10 IS the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, or rather its deracinated goyishkeit identity.

Trust me, I wanted to let it drop. Because, really, I didn’t expect the Spertus people to say, “Why yes Neil, we’re ashamed of being Jews, so we’ve adopted a secret gentile identity, like an attractive college gal named Myrna Herskowitz painting her face and pole dancing under the name Tiffany Galore, to lure in all the blue bloods who might not want to party in a Jewish museum.”

But you never know. I phoned up Betsy Gomberg, Spertus spokesperson. She laughed when I told her I was curious whether the Spertus is hiding its Jewishness. As they ashamed?

“Oh no, not at all,” she said. “It’s the name we use when we’re renting out our space. It’s DBA — ‘doing business as,’ a legal designation. It allows us to rent out our space. There’s certainly no reason why another excellent program shouldn’t use our building.”

If anything, she said “Venue SIX10” is a way to communicate to their Jewish patrons.

“Because of certain restrictions around kosher, in order not to confuse people who keep kosher, it lets them know this is not a kosher event. So if its Spertus, the food is kosher, if it’s Venue SIX10, it’s not kosher.”

Makes sense. Heck, yes — I’ll buy that. Don’t you? In fact, I think there might be something to the whole idea. I could maintain the old “Neil Steinberg” tag for most columns, reflecting the hall-of-mirrors, Talmudic and complex sophistry that we Semitic sorts love to dabble in. And then cook up a cool new moniker, free of any whiff of the shtetl: “Ned Saxon,” or some such thing, for hard-hitting, one-idea-said-six-ways columns celebrating sports victories or decrying mob crime or one of the three tuning fork themes you’ll expect Ned to forcefully ring out.

Alas, my bias is against changing your name or hiding behind masks, even if convenient, even for practical business purposes. It smacks of cowardice. Still, I hate that every time I wrote about Spertus, it seems I’m not exactly celebrating the place. While she had me on the phone, Gomberg plugged an Oct. 28 speech, “The Impact of the Jewish Vote: Election 2012” by NPR’s Cokie Roberts.

“It should be really interesting,” she said.

“Cokie Roberts is Jewish?” I replied. Actually she isn’t — she’s Catholic, but married to a Jew. I’m not sure how that qualifies her as an expert, but the speech will take place at the Spertus Institute — Venue SIX10 must have been unavailable — and that should tell you all you need to know.

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