For most of our alumni, a lot can happen in the years since graduating high school. For Rachel (Hurwith) Zimmerman (’99), it’s a wonder how she’s managed to accomplish so much. She’s a therapist and head of Project Shield (a national model for combating sexual abuse of children), a sought-after speaker on mental and physical health issues, a mother of five and an avid runner.
And she attributes much of the foundation of who she is today to her years in high school. “Ida Crown is incredible because it allows for the full diversity of what Orthodox Judaism has to offer,” says Rachel. She looks back on her years at the Academy and appreciates the diversity of role models among the faculty, particularly Mrs. Wainkrantz. Her teaching style and many wonderful qualities exemplified for Rachel what it meant to have emunah and bitachon. She was also awed by her humility and genuine love of Torah. To this day, Mrs. Wainkrantz reads aloud to her current students a letter that Rachel had given her.
The Academy was Rachel’s first experience in an Orthodox school setting. She admired that Mrs. Wainkrantz didn’t judge who she was or where she came from. Rachel believed that Mrs. Wainkrantz looked at her and saw a Jewish neshama. Rachel jokes, “She is the only person in the world that ever did and still calls me Rochel Leah.”
During high school, Rachel became involved with NCSY where she still plays an active role. Her Academy experience, coupled with NCSY, provided the foundation that defined her future. Today, Rachel says she is indebted to the Academy for all of the knowledge she gained and the concrete skills she learned.
While school opened up a new Jewish world for her, Rachel also reflects on certain aspects that were more familiar to her at the time. She raves about the English department teachers and curriculum, which fostered both a nourishing and challenging learning environment.
Shortly after her marriage to her husband, Rabbi Zvi Zimmerman, who is the mashgiach ruchani at Skokie Yeshiva, the couple moved to Israel for several years where they hosted many seminary and yeshiva students. Many of the girls turned to Rachel for guidance and some turned to her in confidence about some of the issues they were facing. As she talked to girls about eating disorders and other psychological-related issues, their hardships weighed heavily on Rachel. She wanted more than anything to help them overcome their issues, but at that point was not in a position to help them professionally. After some contemplation, Rachel determined that this was her calling. She wanted to help people overcome these types of challenges.
When Rachel and Zvi moved back to the U.S., she resolved to finish her undergraduate degree and apply to the Illinois School of Professional Psychology to obtain a masters in Clinical Psychology and become a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. In those years she interned at a clinic that specialized in treating victims of abuse and trauma.
Since graduating, Rachel has been the Project Shield Coordinator at the Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS) where she educates and trains parents and children in abuse prevention within the Orthodox community. In this capacity Rachel also works with individual victims of child sexual abuse among other issues. Through a large grant, she is currently working with the ATT to implement a program called “Partnership for Safer Schools.” The focus of this partnership is to offer staff and teachers training on protocols and policies to make our schools safer for students.
On the side, Rachel has recently created psycho-education groups, spanning 12 weeks, in which she teaches participants the cognitive and behavioral skills to live a healthier lifestyle. A major focus of these sessions is healthy eating habits, but Rachel also helps participants to be kind and confident in how they relate to themselves.
Rachel currently lives in West Rogers Park with her husband and five children and continues to have a significant impact on our community.