Head of School Blog

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


Dear CJDS Community,

This week has been a very intense and emotional week. It began with the tragic news from Pittsburgh about the attack on the innocent members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, which led into gathering all of the information, craft our responses, both in communications and programming, and actually process the disturbing news ourselves. The mood last Motzei Shabbat and Sunday felt very disheartening and sad, and it felt very much like a repetition of a history we hoped was not to be repeated. However, I am here to convey to you today that the way our country and our communities responded locally and all over the country was truly uplifting. I, myself, attended four gatherings this week. What stood out to me was the support of the non-Jewish community. They not only demonstrated their caring and support of us, but also expressed their outrage toward the rhetoric which is fanning the flames of these types of violent events.

Read More about Community Response and Support from Pittsburgh Tragedy

Dear CJDS Community,

We are shocked and heartbroken hearing the news out of Pittsburgh today. The mass shooting today at the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue is the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community in the more than four centuries of our existence here in what many of our ancestors called the goldene medinah, the gilded land. Eleven people were murdered, others remain in critical condition, many others witnessed a trauma from which they may never fully recover, simply because they opted to pray and study sacred text with their community as Jews. This is a moment for our community - proudly Jewish and proudly American - that will divide time into "before Pittsburgh" and "after Pittsburgh."

By its very definition, terrorism targets civilians as they go about their daily lives. We now add the events of Shabbat morning to the tragedy at the church in Charleston and to the long list of terror attacks in Israel: going to synagogue, praying as Jews, will never feel as safe again. A makom kadosh - a holy space - has been defiled through this heinous act of hatred.

Read More about Tragedy in Pittsburgh

Dear CJDS Community,

An article about Bruce Powell, a legendary Jewish educator, was shared with me this week. In his article, he speaks about the importance of Jewish education. I paused, as it reminded me of the gift of Jewish education that we are giving each child at Chicago Jewish Day School. We not only aspire to be, but, we ARE that school who embraces every way of being Jewish. We welcome every family who wants to belong to our Jewish community. The article also reminded me that the values we transmit to our students will carry them through adulthood. We hope these values will encourage their involvement as a citizen in both their community and our world. I invite you to read the words of Bruce Powell; his wisdom is not complicated, yet noteworthy.

Bruce Powell: Teaching Kindness is as Important as Academics

Shabbat Shalom,

Ms. J (Judy)

Read More about Gift of Jewish Education

This was a beautiful week at Chicago Jewish Day School! We are finally in a 5-day routine, and except for some occasional showers, we have had beautiful weather. We announced the middle school musical and our students are highly engaged in learning! Our new Dr. Carol Fuchs Kaufman Playground, integrated with the Perlow Famly Sports Court, provides a natural playscape for our students who are absolutely loving it. It is quite the sight to see our students enjoying this amazing outdoor play environment.

In addition to a busy week with our students, we hosted the JUF Women’s Division Mini-Mission. Over 50 women from all over the Chicagoland area gathered at CJDS for an informative panel presentation, which included Anna Hartman, Director of Early Childhood Excellence at the Jewish United Fund, Stephanie Goldfarb, Chicago City Director of Honeymoon Israel and myself representing CJDS. 

Grade 7 students presented their Walk for Water project as an example of how social responsibility (Tikun Olam) is demonstrated as it becomes a natural outgrowth from learning in the classroom at CJDS.



Read More about Touring the New Campus

Dear CJDS Community,

The Dr. Carol Fuchs Kaufman Playground officially opened on Wednesday! Each grade level had the opportunity to tour and explore our new, natural playground integrated with the new Perlow Family Sports Court!

 “Children learn through play. They must be active participants in the construction of knowledge and need concrete experiences to shape thoughts and concepts. Teachers provide materials and an enriched environment so that children can be challenged and totally involved in play.” -CJDS Educational Philosophy

This excerpt, taken directly from our Educational Philosophy, was evident in new ways as students began to explore our beautiful new outdoor educational environment. As GRG Playscapes states in their mission statement, “We believe unscripted outdoor play builds generations of healthy risk-taking, compassionate and amazingly well-rounded human beings.”

Read More about New Playground is NOW OPEN!

CJDS Grade 8 students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, alumni parents, and Board of Trustees members attended JUF’s 118th Annual Meeting and Luncheon. This year, however, was a very special experience. To begin the day, Irene Lerher Sandalow received the distinguished Samuel A. Goldsmith Young Professional Award. Irene was honored for her leadership and creativity as the founder of SketchPad, a shared workspace and community for innovative, mission-driven Jewish organizations and entrepreneurs. Thank you for influencing our Chicago Jewish community; you are truly an inspiration to us all!

At the luncheon, the legendary JUF President Dr. Steven B. Nasatir delivered his State of the Federation address as he has for almost 40 years. Only this year, there was a quiet sense of awe in the room as he spoke about his intentions to hand over the baton at the end of the year.

Steve gave a thoughtful and articulate address, which included a much-appreciated shout-out to CJDS and our new campus! Steve also delivered a message directly to the day school students sitting in the room that we have reprinted for our community to read below.

Read More about JUF Meeting and Luncheon

Dear CJDS Community,

The sounds of the shofar were heard all week in the halls of CJDS. While walking the school, I would hear the strong, long sounding of the last blast, tikeah gadola, and it was the cry of the shofar, the shevarim call, that caught my attention. Listening to the ancient tradition of sounding the shofar each day of the month of Elul was, at the same time, both powerful and poignant. The idea that a tradition could transcend generation after generation and feel as meaningful today as I imagine it was, in the beginning, is truly incredible. Hearing the shofar being sounded from a mountaintop, I imagine was even more powerful. However, seeing young American Jews learning this ancient skill or simply listening from their seat in a Jewish day school was powerful and moving in a different way.

I couldn’t help but feel introspective even during one busy day after another. I couldn’t help thinking about our journey as a school and the sense of gratitude that is permeating our campus. The appreciation of our new facilities is palpable.

Read More about Shana Tova U'Metukah!

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.