Natalie Schleifer and the Jack P. Schleifer Foundation found a unique sponsorship opportunity this year when Ida Crown Jewish Academy (ICJA), like many private schools, was among the few schools in the Chicago area conducting school in person this fall. Opening its doors in a pandemic is a feat in itself that required a coordinated effort between the administration, lay leadership, medical personnel and the Illinois Department of Health.
Beyond ensuring the health and safety of students and staff this fall semester, opening school this year as teenagers face rising emotional and spiritual challenges meant finding additional ways to support the student body.
ICJA added two Jewish education guides to the staff to create community and meaningful programming at a time when students need inspiration more than ever. Rabbi Yoni Fox joins Rabbi Mayer Simcha Stromer as the “mechanech,” or spiritual advisor, for boys, and Mrs. Alise Gold joins Mrs. Lynn Kraft as the mechanechet for the girls.
The boys’ position is supported by Natalie Schleifer and the Jack P. Schleifer Foundation and the girls’ position is underwritten by the Walder Foundation. The program is a vital expansion of the school’s ability to address students’ religious and social and emotional needs, as well as provide them with opportunities for growth and leadership development.
The social isolation, lack of organized activities, cancelled summer plans and the general level of anxiety in the world now can be especially taxing for teens. Add to that the uncertainty senior students feel about making decisions for their future, and there’s no question all teens need additional support services this year.
Early studies of teens during the pandemic indicate they are especially vulnerable to depression and emotional challenges. In an NPR report, Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist who is a columnist and host of the podcast Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting, says, “Teenagers are in a developmental space where it is critically important that they have regular contact with their peers and are able to develop close and ongoing relationships with adults outside the home, such as their teachers, their coaches, their advisers. And I worry very much about what it means for that to be disrupted by the pandemic.”
ICJA supporter Natalie Schleifer, who is president and director of the Jack P. Schleifer Foundation, says, “We are thrilled to support this crucial program for Ida Crown Jewish Academy. We are well aware of the challenges teenagers face in normal times. Our male students need role models who they can emulate and feel comfortable asking their questions to. We are confident that this program will address the social emotional needs of the students as well as help them with their spiritual growth as Jews and leaders in the next generation.”
Due to social distancing restrictions, the new teams of spiritual guides are focusing on 1:1 interactions and making connections with every student at ICJA.
Rabbi Leonard Matanky, dean of ICJA, says, “This program is about our commitment to meeting our students’ needs beyond the classroom to help them succeed in the future.”
Ida Crown Jewish Academy is a Modern Orthodox Jewish college preparatory high school that has served the Chicago Jewish community for 78 years