Alum Recalls the Academy’s Early Years
Reminiscing on her days in high school, during the Academy’s nascent years, Helen Pomper Simons says, “I traveled 1.25 hours each way, to and from school, for three years. At that time, we were coming out of the recession, so we had no expectation of myriads of activities that are currently provided. Those were the war years. Nonetheless, all of us seemed content with what we had. We did not know of better days. We did not yearn for what we did not have. We were not aware of the innovations that would follow. We all knew that we came to school to learn. Parents did not protest about teachers. Teachers were not there to provide us with caring. They were only there to teach. Like in any other profession, there were poor, mediocre and great teachers. And our parents expected us to learn, no matter the personality and style of our teachers. It was a good world.”
Did your experience at ICJA help guide you in your profession?
I am a retired school psychologist and psychotherapist. I had a wonderful experience attending the Chicago Jewish Academy (now Ida Crown) on Douglas Blvd.
Rabbi Rapaport made me fall in love with geometry, and Mrs. Foster provided me with a background in English that helped my proficiency out of first year English at U.of I., at Navy Pier. Since the Academy was not, as yet, recognized by North Central Association, I had to take exams in order to be admitted to the University, and I passed with flying colors.
Although I did not contemplate the field of psychology at that time, I’m quite certain that my love for learning, acquired at the Academy, contributed heavily to my return to school, my masters degree in clinical psychology from Roosevelt U. in 1964, my internship at Cook County Hospital, and my doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology (now Argosy U.), in 1980.
I retired, in 2010, after 36 years of employment. Although I’m retired, I have started writing about the interests that I pursued during my years of employment. I hope that I’ll eventually be able to publish my original therapies, created to assist suicidal children and children who were physically and emotionally abused early in life.
Are you still connected to your friends from the Academy?
Unfortunately, over the years, several of my classmates have passed away. Others have relocated. Occasionally I hear about classmates, such as Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, and the untimely loss of his grandson in Israel. I have also learned of Edah Travis, who married Mr. Bistritsky, a resident of N.Y., and is grandmother to a highly extended family borne by her 11 children. Within the past year or two there have been losses of those who were graduates of the Academy and who became rabbis serving the surrounding Jewish communities.
I would certainly love to hear about others, who were my classmates, as well as, of the 1st class, of 1945, who graduated before me.
What is a lesson or skill you took with you once you left high school?
I was motivated to continue with my education and pursue a college degree. This was not a common goal for women in the 1940’s.
Did you feel prepared for your next step in life?
I felt well prepared for my college education. I was a lover of learning, no matter where it took place and, no matter what the environment offered. When attending the Academy, girls did not learn Mishna. (Supposedly, it was too difficult for girls.) One day I approached Rabbi Rapaport and said, “I’m taking the Mishnah class this year.” I was permitted to take the class. It was many years later that I found out that all of the boys in the class got together after school, to study the Mishnah, because they had such a difficult time keeping up with me!
Eventually it was decided that girls were not so dumb, and this type of learning, new to the female gender, was also extended to girls. Imagine how well prepared I was for my next steps in life…and thereafter!
Was there a club or sport you joined that helped you become a better person or a stronger leader? Did you gain any life lessons from an extracurricular activity?
I organized a group of girls who sang, known as the “sextet,” and I became president of my graduating class. All of this taught me how to use my organizational skills, which became an asset in later life.
Did you become more connected to Torah or Israel?
I always felt very much connected to Israel. I continue to feel connected, though the Israel of today is very different from the Israel of the 1940’s.
I simply remained a committed member of the Jewish community, and I provided my children and grandchildren with a vibrant Jewish education that should last throughout their lives.