For three generations, we at Ida Crown Jewish Academy have guided more than 4000 young men and women to reach their individual potentials, molding future leaders in Jewish life, business, government, science and the arts. Over 75 years ago, eight visionaries, leaders from the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago and Hebrew Theological College, sought to intensify Jewish education in Chicago, ensuring the continuity of traditional Jewish life in the city. Together they decided to establish a secondary school that would integrate general studies with a thorough Jewish education, a pioneering idea at the time. In 1942, Chicago Jewish Academy, as ICJA was first called, opened on Chicago’s West Side to 42 students. See below to read more about our history.
Today our founders’ vision remains intact, as Ida Crown Jewish Academy is renowned for providing students with an outstanding education in both Judaic and general studies. It is our commitment to excellence that makes the Academy the number-one choice for hundreds of families, both in the Metropolitan Chicago area and from out of town. We are Chicago’s Modern Orthodox Jewish high school, open to all members of our diverse community. Across the nation, we are recognized not only as a leading institution in the field of education, but we are also known for our outstanding athletic program and extracurricular opportunities.
What sets ICJA apart from other academies?
For four years, Academy students devote serious effort to developing their minds and characters. It is our students’ shared commitment to growth, reinforced by a staff that supports each student as an individual, that makes the Academy such a warm and nurturing Jewish community.
Each year as our graduates leave the halls of the Academy we are proud of who they have become–fine, mature, committed, cultured and dedicated Jewish young adults. We are also proud of the many awards they receive, including: university academic scholarships, National Merit Scholarships and Illinois State Scholar awards. Our graduates continue their education by attending the finest universities in America and abroad in addition to the finest yeshivot and seminaries in Israel.
We are Ida Crown Jewish Academy. We prepare our students for life as observant Jews and full members of society. We’ll help you reach your potential.
Ida Crown Jewish Academy is an affiliate of the Associated Talmud Torahs, the central agency for Orthodox Jewish education in Chicago, and is a partner with the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago in serving our community.
A Quarter of A Century of Progress By The Academy
By Rabbi Shlomo Rapoport
America was at the time in the midst of a total war for survival. The Nazi and Japanese hordes had made inroads into the free countries of Europe and the far-flung islands of South East Asia. The United States had declared war in December 1941 against the two dictatorial powers of German and Japan, in order to preserve American freedoms and to ensure the continuity of western civilization.
While the great statesmen of the United States were engaged in an all-out military struggle for the physical survival of the American people and their free institutions, while the fate of liberty was being determined on the battlefield, a group of men in the city of Chicago met together to safeguard the spiritual survival of the Jewish community. In the early summer of 1942, eight men of “vision,” leaders from the Associated Talmud Torahs and Hebrew Theological College, gathered to discuss what could be done to intensify the educational program of the Jewish schools and thus insure the continuity of traditional Jewish life in the city. Present at this historic meeting were Alex Eisenstein, Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, Rabbi Jacob Greenberg, Rabbi Samuel Siegel and Rabbi Saul Silber (all of blessed memory), and Max Chen, Rabbi Leonard C. Mishkin and Rabbi Menachem B. Sacks. They expressed the fear that the superficiality of the Hebrew school system of education would not guarantee the continuation of Jewish scholarship. Many boys were dropping their Jewish studies when they reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. Just as they were beginning to reach intellectual maturity and the age when they could first comprehend and appreciate the teachings of our sages, they would terminate their Hebrew studies.
The plan proposed by this committee was to establish a high school which would combine under one roof the secular subjects taught in the public schools of Chicago with Jewish studies and observances, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, so that students would not have to attend a Yeshivah or Hebrew High school late in the afternoon, or evening, when they are tired and unreceptive, after a hard schedule in high school. Such a school would perhaps attract and hold the finest of Jewish youth during their adolescent years. Once they would have a Hebrew education on the high school level, they might go on to still higher learning on a Yeshivah level, and from this learned youth would come our future rabbis and teachers. Or, even if they wouldn’t become Jewish professionals, they would remain educated laymen and serve the Jewish community by raising the standards of Yiddishkeit wherever they live. It was envisioned that they would be the ones who would attend services regularly, they would become the synagogue officers, they would lead Jewish groups in the true Torah tradition, and would enrich Jewish life wherever they are. They would pattern the Jewish community of the future.
It was unanimously agreed to establish the new secondary school of Jewish learning under the auspices of both the Associated Talmud Torahs, the central agency for Torah education in Chicago and the Hebrew Theological College, the Yeshivah for higher Jewish learning in the Middle West, which institutions the “founding fathers” represented. Instead of starting with the first year of high school it was decided to develop the school by gradual stages, by starting off as a co-educational junior high school with grades 7, 8 and 9 and then to add another grade each year. Obtaining the students at the 7th grade level would serve a twofold purpose. First, parents would be more ready to send their children at this stage, rather than on the high school level, and secondly, the school would have them before the age of Bar Mitzvah, and thus there would be a greater possibility for the boys to continue their Jewish studies after the age of thirteen. The name adopted was that of the Chicago Jewish Academy, and the budget of the school was to be guaranteed by the Associated Talmud Torahs and the Hebrew Theological College.
It should be noted that this was essentially a pioneering venture in Chicago. Although the Hebrew Parochial School was originally organized in 1928, it had remained an independent, unaffiliated institution which struggled for its existence through the years. (It was only after the establishment of the Academy that the former school began to experience some measure of success.) Furthermore, the fact remains that in 1942, the year of the Academy’s founding, there were only seven Hebrew Day Schools located outside of New York. In 1939, at the eve of the Second World War, there were only 19 such schools in all America. Over 90% of the existing Day Schools were established after 1940.
The specific purpose of the Academy, as stated by its founders, was “to integrate secular studies with a thorough Jewish education, in order to foster Torah learning and religious living among American Jewish youth.” It would seek to provide for them an integrated program of traditional Judaism and general education which would prepare them for creative and successful living in the America Jewish community. It would offer standard secular courses combined with an intensive program of Jewish studies and Torah practices.
Also, because of the smaller size of the classes, the student would gain from the individual attention and personal guidance of his rabbis and teachers. Close association with friends and companions of a common religious background would also tend to strengthen his Jewishness and develop his character and personality. But the all-important benefit for the Jewish boy or girl would be a training in the traditions and observances of our Torah heritage, a basic background for the future laymen and leaders of our communities.
In September 1942, the Chicago Jewish Academy opened its doors to 42 students. The building of the Hebrew Theological College, then located on the corner of Douglas Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue, was the first home of the school. From the very beginning of its establishment, the Academy made amazing progress. The courses offered were more than adequate to meet the desire of all parents for a very good Jewish education as well as a regular public school program for their children. Besides the high standard of the secular and Jewish studies, daily religious services were held, where special emphasis was placed on synagogue decorum, earnestness in prayer, and social implications of Hebrew prayer and its content. A Student Council, whose purpose was to plan the activities of the student body and promote the general welfare of the school was organized to offer opportunities for practical experience in democratic living and leadership. Other features of the educational program singled out for special distinction were the publication of a school paper, the establishment of a monitor system, a program of lunch hour activities, charity drives, the conducting of various assembly programs and holiday observances.
Throughout the early stages, there was a constant desire to integrate both departments of the school in course materials, through combined faculty meetings, and in the cooperation between the teachers of religious and secular subjects on working on common projects. The teachers of both areas recognized the challenge of discovering a realistic relationship between religious and lay experiences and of inspiring the students to realize them for enriched daily living.
The need for expansion of the Academy and the urgency of gaining official standing as an accredited high school were the driving forces in the purchase of a large and spacious building, the Metropolitan Masonic Temple, in the Garfield Park area. On May 7, 1945 (V.E. Day to be exact), the Associated Talmud Torahs obtained its new center as the future home of the Academy. Two years eventually elapsed before the school occupied the building because of the delay in the remodeling process, due to wartime conditions.
In September 1945, the Academy opened as a complete six-year secondary school (junior and senior high school) in the final stage of its development. In June 1946 the Commencement Exercises of the first graduating class of the Academy, representing the culmination of the first stage in the development and growth of the school, took place in the auditorium of the Jewish Peoples Institute. Nine students received both English and Hebrew diplomas, and all of the graduates were accepted by various colleges and universities. The Senior Class had also published an Annual in English and Hebrew, “The Academy Memoirs,” the yearbook which portrayed the activities of the student body, and specifically of the graduating class, in picture and story.
The year 1947 was an important milestone in the history of the Chicago Jewish Academy. For five years it had been housed in the Yeshivah building, and on June 22, 1947, the new Associated Talmud Torahs Center was dedicated as the future home of the school. The three-story edifice had been remodeled and converted into a completely modern school plant with all the necessary facilities. The difficulties inherent in moving an entire school to a new plant were minimized by a planned procedure beginning with the summer months of July and August, so that when the fall semester opened, the school began to function as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. Although there were a few technical difficulties connected with the operation of a school in a new building and the setting up of the classrooms with the necessary furnishings and equipment, both departments of the Academy functioned without delay.
At the end of the school year, (on June 2, 1948), the Academy was visited by Dr. T.C. Hood, Assistant High School Visitor, and was granted official recognition by the University of Illinois and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The school was also inspected on October 20, 1955 by Roy Clark, Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction, and in March 1956, at the annual meeting of the North Central Association, the Academy was placed on the official list of accredited high schools in the State of Illinois.
With the rapid deterioration of the West Side neighborhood and the Wilcox Street location, the Academy was forced by circumstances to relocate in midwinter, between semesters (February 1961), to the Torah Center. This building became available when its Torah Day School merged with the Hillel Day School. The moving operation was no small undertaking, especially since it took place within a space of a few days. One day was spent in packing, and two days, in the actual moving. The process of setting things up and making adjustments in the physical facilities of the building was a gradual one, but with the passing of time, quite successful. An extra classroom and shop were constructed, lockers were installed, the school plant was redecorated, and a stage curtain was installed. Through a government loan, a new physical science laboratory was built. All the necessary changes in converting the school plant from an elementary day school building to one housing a modern high school were made during the first year.
Some of the advantages of the Torah Center over the former location were that it was situated in a better geographical area, the building had more modern facilities, the school had a gymnasium on the premises, the kitchen was much more spacious, the office had a much larger area, and in general the structure itself was more compact. Also, since the majority of the student body lived in the greater North Side area, the Lake Shore location of the Academy was more accessible to them and at the same time could still serve students from the South Shore and other outlying areas.
Simultaneously with the relocation of the Academy, primarily because of the long distance involved in transporting the boys, a Yeshiva High School was established in Skokie on the campus of the Hebrew Theological College as a branch of the Academy, for the out-of-town boys and those Chicagoans who would reside in the dormitory. The educational program of the Yeshiva High School was to be parallel to that of the Chicago Jewish Academy, except that the Talmudic studies would be intensified.
In order to relieve somewhat the congested conditions in the main center of the school, and at the same time to satisfy the needs of those parents desiring separate facilities for girls, a 9th grade girls’ class was opened at the Beth Shalom Synagogue building in September 1963. This was the nucleus for the third division of the Academy, the Girls’ High School, in addition to the Academy proper and the Yeshiva High School in Skokie.) Since then, the Girls’ High School Branch has become a four-year school, and is presently housed in the Religious Zionist Center.
The moving of the Academy into the Torah Center was considered only as a temporary expedient. The need for the construction of a new building as a permanent home for the school became more apparent with the passing of each day. The structure was seriously inadequate because of space limitations, with an insufficient number of classrooms and special rooms. There was excessive congestion in the building because of the narrow corridors, small library, and small lunchroom, which were not able to accommodate the large numbers of students in the high school. There were many desirable and necessary facilities which could not be provided, and educational practices which could not be introduced because of the space problem. The Academy was in desperate need of additional “lebensraum” for growth and expansion, with the continuing increase in enrollment. There was also no play area or adequate playground space; students were confined to the interior of the building all day in spite of an extra-long day schedule. Furthermore, since the overwhelming majority of the students hailed from the far sections of the North Side (including suburbs), it was felt that they lost much valuable time in traveling to and from school and became fatigued in the process. A more centrally located site would eliminate this transportation problem and attract more students.
In the early months of 1964, with the acquisition of land in the heart of West Rogers Park, a center of Jewish population, the Associated Talmud Torahs formally announced to the Jewish community, after having received clearance by the local Jewish Welfare Fund, that a new education center would be constructed to house the Academy. The Associated Talmud Torahs proclaimed a campaign of a million and a half dollars to erect a school plant which would accommodate 750 students. The school would bear the name of the Ida Crown Jewish academy, as a result of the generous philanthropy of the Crown family.
Twenty-five years have elapsed since the establishment of the Chicago Jewish Academy as a secondary school for religious and secular studies. During this period of its existence, the school has surpassed all the expectations of its founders and has become one of the outstanding institutions of its kind in the entire country. In student enrollment alone, the Academy has multiplied in numbers over ten times, until it now has an overall student enrollment of over 475. In every phase of its educational program, the school has made remarkable progress, and has, as a result, acquired a national reputation.
The Academy through the years, has maintained very high scholastic standards. The fact remains that the Academy wins a larger number of scholarships in proportion to its school population than most of the other high schools in the Chicago area. The high percentage of scholarship awards attests to the success of the academic program. The school, indeed, enjoys an excellent reputation in colleges and universities of the Chicago area, as well as Yeshivot, throughout the country, and even in Israel.
The Academy has up to date over 1,000 alumni, many of whom have already distinguished themselves in the sciences and professions and made their mark upon the community as lay and professional young Jewish leaders, in Jewish communal work, in Jewish education, and in the rabbinate. In Chicago, the Academy has elevated the standards of Jewish education, and many of its products have entered the field as teachers and administrators.
Although the educational future of the Academy is well established, the institution will have further opportunities for development. Because of its unique nature as a pioneering venture, the school will continue to challenge the vision and understanding of all those who have participated in its growth and operation. With this long-range policy in view, the new edifice now under construction by the Associated Talmud Torahs will house the Ida Crown Jewish Academy. In its permanent home, the school will make additional strides in its enrollment expansion and educational progress and become an even greater asset to the Chicago Jewish community.