Head of School Blog

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


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

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.