A cornerstone of an Academy education is fostering a love for and a commitment to Israel. Annually, over 85 percent of our seniors attend a program in Israel during their gap year between high school and college. Our Dean Rabbi Matanky conducts intake interviews with prospective students by introducing them to what he calls our “Five-Year Program.”

Our students go on to contribute to Israel by promoting Israel on campus, serving in the IDF or sheirut leumi or making aliyah. Some of our alumni classes are composed of so many olim, that we hold alumni reunions in Israel!

No other high school in the Midwest demonstrates such a high level commitment to Israel, something that is exemplified in our video from the first day of school in the 2014-2015 school year and has even been reported in The Chicago Tribune.

Perhaps no other week at ICJA reinforces our values more than the week of Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. In two days’ time, members of our school community come together to connect to Israel and, inevitably, to one another. And as they celebrate Israel’s past, present and future, each student considers his or her own place in our collective story.

On Yom HaZikaron, students dress in black and white and spend the morning in phenomenal programming focusing on the lives of three different victims and the depth of sorrow left by the lives they lost.

The Yom HaAtzmaut program, opening with davening at KINS, leaves an indelible mark on students. The program includes discussion groups, a video, and of course, a festive meal and dancing. Spirited dancing begins in the gym and then continues outside for all passerby’s to see. While music blasts from speakers outside, it is often apparent that students’ voices are much stronger. Each year it is a program that students will remember for years to come.

As anyone who experiences these celebrations knows (including parents, passersby and the UPS man!), these days comprise one of the most important aspects of our Academy education. It’s one of the times when school feels more like camp, imbuing into the hearts of students a love and spirit for Torah and Israel that can only come from experiential Jewish moments.

The spirit of our students dancing, singing and yearning to go to Israel launches them into a future of connection to Israel and the Jewish people.

Academy students also develop a deep love for Israel through their classroom lessons, Hebrew language courses, special Israel programming and an Israel advocacy course.

Second semester seniors at the Academy prepare for life on college campuses through an Israel advocacy course with Rabbi Michael Myers. Faced with the often-tense political climate on campus, one Academy alumni family recognized the need to arm high school graduates with Israel knowledge. The hope is that seniors will graduate with the essential tools to advocate for Israel once they arrive on campus. The course builds upon years of courses in Tanach, Jewish history and even writing and rhetoric.

The Gorenstein family, who sent all of their children to ICJA, approached the school to initiate the course, committed funds and have been involved in the course’s development and in raising more of the necessary funds. The family’s efforts in developing the course are in memory of their father and grandfather, Sam Gorenstein, ע’’ה. Carl Schrag–a journalist, teacher and Middle East analyst–helped develop the course.