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Raising Upstanders at CJDS from Head of School, Judy Finkelstein-Taff
Jen Minkus

Dear CJDS Community,

It’s hard to believe that 75 years after the Holocaust ended and 72 years after the founding of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again. Is history beginning to repeat itself? As leaders of a Jewish Day School, we watch and read the news, trying to make sense of it all. We are asked questions like, “What is the antidote to anti-Semitism?” We wonder what the best way is to talk to our students about anti-Semitism and at what grade is it appropriate?

Watching 25,000 people march in New York City demonstrating unity against anti-Semitism was reminiscent of both the civil rights marches in the ‘60’s and the Soviet Jewry marches in the ‘80’s. If we can say we learned anything from the buildup to the Holocaust, it is that we need to be upstanders and not bystanders in the face of injustice and bigotry. If we have learned anything, it is the power of protest - praying with your feet, so to speak - as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said.

At CJDS, we teach the concepts of being an upstander early on. We teach students to be responsible for their actions, to treat others with kindness and respect, and to use their voices to make the repairs necessary in our world.

The antidote to growing anti-Semitism is a Jewish Day School Education. It’s essential that we raise proud, knowledgeable, and practicing Jews who acquire skills to navigate our world while educating their friends and neighbors. The work we all put in allows our students - your children - to promote good, rather than evil, while encouraging them to celebrate diversity, disagree respectively, and collaborate to achieve the common good.

 

This week, our CJDS Rabbinic Advisory Group met with our faculty and staff in a thought-provoking and uplifting session around our theme, V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Rabbis also explored with us the idea of “no exceptions.”

In practice, Judaism teaches that if your very existence is being threatened - Pikuach nefesh - you must do everything possible to save yourself and the lives of others. V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha reminds us that while responding to negativity, evils, and challenges, we should still aspire to act in a way we would want others to act toward us. No exceptions refers more to how we approach our neighbors and how we aspire to communicate our differences. Thank you to Rabbis Wolkenfeld, Conover and Russo who conducted the session and to Rabbi Siegel for his ongoing support, involvement, and leadership.

We are living in difficult times, facing challenges that I thought we had conquered and that my own children and grandchildren would not have to face. I was wrong. Today, I hope and pray our response as a Jewish community will be different. If last Sunday’s march in New York City is any indicator, I am hopeful that “Never Again” is not just a slogan.

Perhaps it’s a good Shabbat to attend synagogue as a way to demonstrate your Jewish pride and solidarity as a community. If you don’t belong to a synagogue, or if you don’t know about a partnership minyanim or chavurah, we are happy to help you find one of many welcoming communities in the Chicago area.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ms. J (Judy)