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Perhaps no other week at ICJA reinforces our values more than this week–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 their relationship with Israel’s past, present and future, each student considers his or her own place in our collective story.

This year was no different.

On Monday, Yom HaZikaron, students dressed in black and white, filed into the dark gym lit only by tiny lights set upon photos of those lost in Israel’s decades of war and terror. The mood was profoundly solemn as students were ushered past the images. The program was then led by students who introduced films featuring three different victims of war, focusing on the lives they lived and the depth of sorrow left by the lives they lost.

Following the films, Academy students heard from Consul General to the Midwest Roey Gilad, who spoke about Israel’s past and challenges for the future. He told students that he is “inspired” every time he visits ICJA by students’ dedication to the State of Israel.

Tuesday’s Yom HaAtzmaut program, opening with davening at KINS, was phenomenal. Students, led by Mrs. Tzippi Rimel and Mrs. Adina Blaustein, blanketed the building with blue and white. The program opened with students broken into small discussion groups led by staff and YU Torah Mitzion Kollel members. The groups watched video clips of alumni on college campuses speaking about challenges they face as Religious Zionists on college campuses. Following each clip, our students were prompted to make choices and text their choices to generate live survey results.

The program was followed by a festive meal and dancing. As usual, the spirited dancing began in the gym and then continued outside on one of Chicago’s first beautiful spring days this year. While music blasted from speakers outside, it was soon apparent that students’ voices were much stronger. For more than 40 minutes, our students bellowed out every Jewish and Israeli song they knew. And when the program was meant to close, the students and staff instead then sat on the ground for a powerful and inspiring impromptu kumzitz for more than an hour. No doubt, everyone there will remember that kumzitz for years to come.

As anyone who experiences our Yom HaAtzmaut celebration following our Yom HaZikaron commemoration 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 where 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 to the Jewish people. And judging by the ruach of this year’s celebration, the future of the Jewish people is bright, indeed.

Am Yisrael Chai!

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