Head of School Blog

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!

Dear CJDS Community,

Exciting Announcement: Mednick IDEA Lab!

As most of our parents know, in our former facilities we developed a sense for using space creatively and for never letting the lack of facility adversely affect our standards of excellence. As it turns out, those skills continue to inform us even in our current beautiful home. Phase II of our New Campus Project will hold many of our arts and enrichment classes as well as our middle school. While we await the start of the Phase II construction, we have found temporary space solutions for art, music, and athletics in the Mozart building. We also anticipate opening a new makerspace on the third floor. We didn’t want to wait for the building construction to introduce a program element that we thought was important, so we put our creative thinking caps on and found a solution to our challenges. Today, we are thrilled to make the following announcement:

We are thrilled to announce that thanks to the generosity of longtime friends and supporters of CJDS, Susan (Susie) and Robert (Bob) Mednick, we will create and name The Mednick IDEA (Invention, Design, Engineering, Art) Lab, which will serve as the school’s first-ever makerspace. The IDEA Lab itself will be built as a part of Phase II of our New Campus Project. While we await the construction of this new Lab, and thanks to a generous grant from the Crown Goodman Family, CJDS will launch a series of mobile IDEA Labs in the Fall of 2019...

Read More about Exciting Announcement: Mednick IDEA Lab!

Dear CJDS Community,

As we head into this very cold weekend, I'd like to encourage all of our parents, grandparents, and friends, to print out Likrat Shabbat and find time to curl up with a cup of coffee or hot tea and read the article written by Jill Kushnir LeVee below. Jill, along with our Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten faculty members, Morot Dana Solomon, Moriah Bradley, Susie Lorge, Lauren Israel, Dalia Rosenberg, Erez Solomon, and Penina Berdugo (and Molly Rubin who is now teaching in Grade Two) are in their 2nd year of working with our Reggio consultants. I'd like to take this moment to give a shout out and Yasher Koach along with our thanks and appreciation to all of these hardworking faculty members for embracing new ideas in education and implementing them so beautifully to benefit the learning and engagement in learning with our students. 

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, once wrote, "The more time you spend with children, the more you notice how inquisitive they are about the world and how keen is their thinking, even about the most subtle things . . . " Malaguzzi also wrote, "The environment should act as a kind of aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes, and cultures of the people who live in it. This is what we are working toward."

This spring, Jill, Dana, and Susie will be traveling to Reggio Emilia, Italy as a part of our professional development. They will bring back their first-hand look at the Reggio Emilia Approach in action to their colleagues and our students, your children. It's an exciting time and we look forward to sharing more with you in the future. 

Shabbat Shalom (and don't forget to read below!),  

Ms. J (Judy)

Read More about Reggio Emilia Approach in Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten

Dear CJDS Community,

It’s hard to believe that we are starting 2019. The expression, “time flies” seems to ever be so true.

We returned to school on Monday and celebrated Rosh Chodesh on Monday, welcoming in the month of Shvat and anticipating the celebration of Tu B’Shvat later this month. In some ways celebrating nature and our appreciation of trees and our environment seems so misplaced in the middle of winter. On the other hand, maybe it adds meaning to us in Chicago, as we long for green leaves on the trees along with flowers and the sun. Maybe that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies to Tu B’Shvat too. Maybe it makes it even more meaningful to look forward to Tu B’Shvatand the role of nature in our lives at this time on the calendar.

One way of demonstrating our appreciation is by planting trees in Israel, a longtime Jewish tradition. We would love to see as many CJDS families as possible take a moment to plant a tree in Israel through JNF. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give tzedakah, continue to beautify the state of Israel, and acknowledge the upcoming holiday. Please see more details below...

Read More about High Five to the Fifth Bus!

Dear CJDS Community,

As we get ready to close school for Winter Break, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on the value of teaching and demonstrating gratitude for our blessings in our lives and in this world. Hakarat Ha Tov is the name of this value in Hebrew.

Hakarat Ha Tov-CJDS New Campus and our Students


Our New Campus has been such a gift to our educational program, our students, faculty and staff, and, by extension, to the community. The New Campus truly has become the “Third Teacher,” and it is a pleasure to come into work every day and know that the environment enhances the educational program. 

Fostering and nurturing a culture of gratitude and appreciation is important to our Mission and Vision as a multi-denominational Jewish day school. By recognizing and modeling these values, we hope our students will internalize them and become adults who use these values as a lens for contributing to the world. 

Read More about Hakarat Ha Tov-Demonstrating Gratitude

Dear CJDS Community,

Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. If the light is a metaphor for hope, inspiration and the acquisition of knowledge, this week we hit it out of the ballpark!

SUNDAY: Parent Committee Hanukkah Celebration

Beginning last Sunday evening, the first night of Hanukkah, we lit the candles together using a beautifully assembled Hanukiyah, made by our students, out of LEGOs. As we sang the shechecheyanu blessing, the English translation thanking God for bringing us to this day was palpably felt as we gathered for the first Hanukkah celebration at our new campus...

Read More about Hanukkah: Festival of Lights

By: Tamar Cytryn, Director of Jewish Studies and Campus Life

Dear CJDS Community,

This past week I had the absolute pleasure of attending the iCenter for Israel Education’s biennial gathering, iCON 2018. It was three inspiring days and nights of learning and growing with hundreds of dynamic Jewish educators from across North America and Israel. The goal of the gathering was to “inspire new ideas and groundbreaking paradigms in Israel education.”

We have turned to them many times over the years, and they have been inspirational consultants and tremendously generous with Israel related chomer (resources) for myself and our teachers. The conference I participated in this last week, however, was a gift beyond anything else we have gotten thus far.

Among other takeaways, I have not been able to start thinking of what, for me, was the central message of the conference: in all moments as educators, and especially around our thinking and practice of Israel education, we must have the courage to use our voices and the humility to recognize we are not the only voice in the room.

Read More about Multiple Voices in the Room

Dear CJDS Community,

Every week in our Likrat Shabbat newsletter, we highlight different areas of school life. Today I’d like to highlight some areas of our Educational Philosophy, specifically the introduction and the areas entitled Intrinsic Motivation and Social Justice. 

CJDS Students: Changing the World One Day at a Time

This past week, our Educational Leadership Team heard from our middle school students about their involvement in social action/Tikun Olam projects outside of school and how they want to engage their classmates.

One of our students wrote about working with refugees in our community. Another small group wrote that they felt our students needed to keep up with the news, both locally and globally. The students wanted to create a news segment that they could broadcast over our PA system once a week. They felt their news show could also encourage participation in the various tzedakah/Tikun Olam/Chesed projects that others were doing.

Lastly, when talking with some of our B’nei Mitzvah students, I realized that some of our students are really out there in the world already helping and making a difference. Whether it be feeding the homeless or making them sleeping mats from recycled plastic bags, our students are not only thinking about others in the community, but they are contributing and taking action to help...

Read More about Intrinsic Motivation and Social Justice

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.