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Head of School Blog

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: ...

Read More about A Message of Gratitude From Head of School, Judy Finkelstein-Taff

Dear CJDS Community,

It is always a thoughtful process when we choose a theme each year. We ask ourselves, will it catch on? How much will it integrate with all that we do at CJDS? So far this year, we've seen our theme V’ahavta L’areycha Kamocha

(love your neighbor as yourself) resonating quite nicely. Rabbi Akiva, who believed this to be the most important mitzvah of the Torah, experienced the power of love through his relationship with his wife, Rachel. Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd who became a renown Torah scholar late in life thanks to Rachel's support. After many years, Akiva returned home to his wife. When he arrived, Rabbi Akiva’s students surrounded him and blocked Rachel’s access to Akiva. Rabbi Akiva stopped all his students in that moment and chastised them: “Don’t you know this is my wife! Everything I have is due to her and everything you have is due to her...”

Read More about A Message from Head of School, Judy Finkelstein-Taff

Dear CJDS Community,

As I approach the end of my fourth and final year (of what was intended to be a two-year term) as President of the Chicago Jewish Day School Board of Trustees, I am struck by how satisfying my time in this position has been. Seeing CJDS in action every day has bolstered my already strong conviction of the value of a Jewish day school education, especially one that takes place in a multi-denominational, progressive school. In partnership with parents and caregivers, CJDS clearly fulfills its mission of creating for its students a standard of excellence in both Judaic and General Studies and providing them with the knowledge and desire to lead meaningful Jewish lives as adults and to identify strongly as Jewish.

Indeed, CJDS is an incredible place, and I am so thankful that over the years, I have been able to work with and learn from Judy Finkelstein-Taff, our Head of School, the Operations and Education Leadership Teams, the incredibly dedicated teachers and staff, our grade 8 students down to our JK students, our small but growing alumni network, the community of amazing and committed parents who are invested in their children's education, our charitable donors, the Chicago community at-large that believes in the CJDS product, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, and the tireless Board of Trustees. (Yes, the list is very long!) From top to bottom and from inside out, this school is special. The Chicago area’s Jewish community is both active and robust, and with CJDS graduates in its midst, we are poised to shape the next generation of American Jewry in terms of building and sustaining community, political activism, caring for the future of Israel, commitment to Judaism, and engaging in tikkun olam...

Read More about Message from outgoing CJDS Board President Anat S. Geva

Dear CJDS Community,

This past week we completed the information-gathering portion of our strategic planning process. Many of our stakeholders participated in focus groups, round tables, individual meetings, and phone calls. We are grateful to the co-chairs of this effort: Katie Dealy Polansky, Ann Luban, and David Desser, along with President, Anat Geva, and incoming President, Stacy Raviv. Special thanks and appreciation to Liz Erlich, who coordinated all of the logistics for this site visit. Thank you to the Prizmah Team leader, Dan Perla, and team visitors, Amy Adler, Dan Perla, Mark Shinar, and Traci Stratford, for leading this process so effectively. Please see the list of names below which gives you a glimpse into how many voices were heard, in addition to the over 100 parents who returned the survey.

The next step for the Prizmah Team will be to synthesize the information and bring it back to our Strategic Planning Committee. After review by this committee and through work with our board and program leadership, we will establish priorities, which will result in a five-year strategic plan. This plan will serve as a compass as we negotiate the next several years. We will keep you posted as the process continues...

Read More about Message from Ms. J and Strategic Plan Appreciation

Dear CJDS Community,

Thank you for supporting our Middle School Musical through the full house attendance we experienced each night. This year’s production of "Mamma Mia!" was spectacular! During intermission last night, each and every person I spoke with commented on how the joy and enthusiasm of the cast and crew was palpable. Everyone in the room seemed really moved not only by the talent displayed, but also by how much the students were enjoying themselves on stage. Thank you to Morah Jill Schwartz for her leadership and the entire Musical Team: Morah Rachel Treister, Alex Schnitzer, Paulette Herbstman, Morah Jessica Glick, Morah Kate Burstein, Abbe Roth, and Mike Patrick. Thank you to the entire Operations Department, especially Esther Solooki, Naomi Shapiro, and Wendy Kline, along with our security and maintenance teams. Thank you to Rachel Pickus, Director of the Middle School, along with the entire Middle School Faculty and our Middle School Parents for their support of the musical.

Moving right along, next week we will welcome our Prizmah Strategic Planning professionals who will arrive from New York and Israel to facilitate our strategic planning process. We have already begun bringing stakeholders together thanks to technology and the zoom meeting platform...

Read More about Middle School's Incredible Production of "Mamma Mia!" at Chicago Jewish Day School

Yesterday, Chicago Jewish Day School was overflowing with Jewish reflection, emotion, joy, pride, love of Israel, and ruach expressed in song and dance by our students.

We thank and appreciate parents, grandparents, and community members who joined us for our morning ceremonies and wish every parent could have been with us yesterday. There were two especially moving moments in yesterday’s tekes (ceremony) that I would like to share with you. You may remember that we requested photos from our families, faculty, and staff of anyone that served in the Israeli Defense Forces. We received over 40 photos from this request, which were made into a slideshow. Morah Tamar Cytryn asked each person in the room to stand when their family’s photo was shown on the screen. The sight of students proudly standing for their family members (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins who have served) in addition to teachers and administrators brought many of us to tears. It’s truly remarkable to reflect on the ways our small CJDS community has served to protect and secure the State of Israel over the last 71 years.

Read More about A Moving Yom HaAtzmaut at Chicago Jewish Day School

It feels like we have been on an emotional rollercoaster that's testing our resilience. First, we had the joy of Passover, giving us a break from our day-to-day routines. We hope everyone enjoyed the holiday. I would love to hear about your Passover experiences and how your children - our students - participated in your family seder. Please feel free to email me at

As the holiday wound down there was the horrific act of terror at the Chabad outside of San Diego. It feels as though we are becoming numb to these attacks. I believe observing Yom HaShoah this week should remind us that we cannot allow anti-semitism to grow. We cannot stand by as these acts of terror assault our community. We must stand up for gun control and background checks and we must send emails to our elected officials and the Department of Homeland Security. We must support ADL, JUF, and all of the organizations protecting our freedoms. We must teach our students that we cannot be bystanders.



Over the past several years, these last spring observances on the Jewish calendar have become increasingly meaningful, as our global world shows these unsettling symptoms. Seeing the candle lit on Thursday in memory of six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust made us cherish every child in this building just a little bit more. As I listened to Holocaust survivor, Dr. George Brent, share his unimaginable story, I couldn’t help but think about the day when there are no survivors left to give us firsthand accounts.

Read More about Holocaust Survivor Dr. George Brent Visits

I want to share an experience I had at CJDS. The story of this experience, though, began at the beginning of the week on a Monday. Every year I like to teach a mini unit to our Grade 8 students, which gives me an opportunity to teach and learn with them before they graduate. This year, we explored a mini unit about Israel and read chapters from a book entitled Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi. Yossi, who is a well known journalist, writer, and thought leader, made Aliyah from New York many years ago, served in the Israeli army and currently serves as a Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. After reading and discussing the chapters in his book and some of the big ideas presented, we arranged a Skype call with him and our students. Students engaged in an exploration of Zionism and the creation of the modern State of Israel. They asked questions about what inspired him to write the book and if his own Judaism was challenged by what he experienced visiting Palestinian communities, as well as if he thought Judaism was a right or a responsibility. I was very proud of the engagement level of our students and was equally impressed with Yossi's ability to relate to our students. If you know a CJDS Grade 8 student or if one is a member of your family, please ask them to share their reflections.

While I was sitting with our students during the call, I looked around the room and realized that I've known most of them since Junior Kindergarten or Kindergarten. It sunk in just how quickly the years have gone by, and I couldn’t help but think about how much poise they had asking the questions and responding to ones from Yossi. They seemed so ready to go to high school...

Read More about Skyping with Author Yossi Klein Halevi

From time to time we share areas of ongoing professional development and new ways of thinking in education with you. Last year we started an educational process with our teachers to learn about changing attitudes, perspectives and adaptive language regarding gender orientation.

As a multi-denominational Jewish Day School, we acknowledge Jews with many different backgrounds, practices, and beliefs. This embrace of diversity has always extended beyond the Jewish lens and into the lives of our students and families. CJDS is a self-reflective community, committed to the mindset of growth and development, as individuals and as a team. In the last few years, it has become increasingly evident that a generation that sees the world with self-identity and gender identity in non-binary terms continues to emerge even in the elementary and early childhood years.

We began our journey of learning in this realm with a professional development workshop led by Rabbi D’ror Chankin-Gould from Anshe Emet Synagogue, who worked with our faculty and staff on inclusion, not just from a Jewish perspective but in all areas of learning and identity. As a result of that workshop, and in collaboration with the Response Center, we adapted inclusive language for all genders, both in and out of our classrooms....

Read More about Gender Identity

Dear CJDS Community, 

As we welcome in the first Shabbat in March, our Grade Eight students are returning from their amazing trip to Israel. “Tzaytchem L’shalom U’ Voachem L’shalom” – Our students went in peace, and our students are coming home in peace. These words are traditionally offered to travelers who are going on a trip to Israel.

Why do we use that language? After all if family or friends were travelling to Italy, we might say, “Travel safe” and recite the traveler’s prayer, we might say, “Have a great time,” or we might say, “I wish I was going with you, but go in peace and come back in peace” giving the traveler a clue that this place, this vacation, this trip will be different from all other trips. “Ma nishtana” . . . . what makes this trip so different?

The language of the salutation conveys an underlying message that throughout the trip, the place you are going, you may see some unrest, that peace isn’t a given, it’s something to wish for, something for which to hope and pray....

Read More about CJDS Israel Trip!

Meet Ms. J!

Judy Finkelstein-Taff has been the Head of School at CJDS for 15 years. She has over 30 years of experience in education, including early childhood, elementary, and informal education. Judy was honored with receiving the nationally recognized 2013 Covenant Award.