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A Message of Gratitude From Head of School, Judy Finkelstein-Taff
Jen Minkus

Dear CJDS Community,

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it is natural to consider what we appreciate in our lives. A recent study from Harvard University uncovered that demonstrating gratitude can actually make you feel happier!

At CJDS we always think about what we can do better, how we can aim higher, and contribute to the world. After reading about this research on practicing gratitude, I am inspired to list ways in which we are grateful:  

  • We are blessed to have over 225 students, a talented administration, faculty and staff, incredible parents, and a circle of donors who understand the importance of education and the future of the Jewish community. 
  • We are grateful for students who think about others: This Thanksgiving our Grade 5 class decided to adopt two families that needed their help in order to have a meal. When I heard that this act of kindness originated from the students, I felt a sense of gratitude to them and their teachers. In addition, our newly elected Student Council could have put their efforts toward throwing a party or something less meaningful, but instead, they chose to spearhead a tzedakah project for at- risk Chicago youth.
  • I am grateful when I see glimpses of CJDS culture coming alive spontaneously. Last Friday when we announced the birth of a new baby at Kabbalat Shabbat, some of our students spontaneously broke out singing Siman Tov U’Mazel Tov, inspiring others to join!
  • I am grateful for faculty and staff who understand the value of professional development opportunities and bring back wonderful ideas to share with their colleagues.
  • At our Donor Thank You event last Thursday night, we did something we rarely do by asking our supporters if they could increase their gifts to CJDS. The response was moving. I am grateful for our circle of major donors, many of whom have been genuinely invested in our success since CJDS’ inception.
  • Lastly, I am so grateful to our CJDS Chesed committee. In my past experience, parent organizations were known solely for their fundraising efforts. Although those efforts are important, I feel extremely proud of the extra mile our Chesed committee goes. This week alone, four CJDS families are dealing with hospitalizations, while other families experience a birth, two deaths, and family members with health challenges. Our community has been so responsive with meals, playdates, carpooling help, and general outreach. It makes me feel incredibly proud as Head of School to witness the concrete ways those in our school community genuinely care for each other. 

If the research is right, my heart overflows this Thanksgiving with appreciation and gratitude from so many. My dad died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving Day 22 years ago, so it’s always been a struggle for me to feel a sense of gratitude during this holiday. But thanks to this inspiring research and school community, I will view Thanksgiving through a different lens this year. I plan to refocus by recounting to my grandchildren stories about their great-grandfather. 

I’ll tell them how proud my dad, who was an observant Jew, would have been to see his oldest grandson become a Rabbi and to see his great-granddaughters help to lead Shabbat at their day school. I’ll tell them how he would have delighted in seeing all three grown grandsons and granddaughters playing his favorite sport, basketball. Reminiscing like this will allow me to concentrate on my gratitude for the wonderful father I had rather than the loss that I’ve typically associated with Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving I challenge our CJDS community to express gratitude and appreciation not only on Thanksgiving Day, but throughout the year. Incorporate “what I am grateful for…” into your Shabbat rituals or Sunday night dinner, and I am certain we’ll see this translate even more within our building. 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Thanksgiving,

Ms. J (Judy)