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In 1972 Mr. David Newman entered the Ida Crown Jewish Academy Pratt building for the first time to begin what would become a nearly five-decade career. His years teaching biology span three generations of Academy students, from the days of teaching on projectors to today’s SmartBoards. Between his Academy job and teaching at Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov, Telshe Yeshiva and Jewish Child and Family Services – Mr. Newman taught biology to nearly every high school-aged Jewish day school student in the area. What remained a constant throughout the decades was Mr. Newman’s passion for the subject and love for his students.

When he began teaching, he had little idea that he would spend a lifetime career at ICJA, a school he had never heard of before applying for the job. Mr. Newman’s interest in science began at Von Stuben High School and then his college biology professor freshman year made such a positive impression on him that he decided to teach. “Had I not had that professor, who knows?” says Mr. Newman.

Early Years

Once he graduated, Mr. Newman heard about an open position at ICJA from his former Von Stuben teacher, Mr. Harold Kiehm, who at the time was teaching AP biology at ICJA. He got the job and never looked back, becoming a part of the fabric of the school. Decades of ICJA students started freshman year with Mr. Newman’s course as a high school right of passage. Parents and children all raised in Chicago to this day share memories of pages of notes, Monday morning bio quizzes, classic Mr. Newman phrases, ham radio lessons and even spaghetti lunches.

As for Mr. Newman, what kept him returning each year were his students. “These are great students, and they’re the reason why I come back year after year. They’re so interested in learning and so cooperative. I feel comfortable as a teacher sitting down and schmoozing with them.”

The students Mr. Newman influenced over the years are too numerous to count. When asked how many times an alum returned to share the impact Mr. Newman’s teaching on his life, he simply shrugs and says it happens all the time. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but that’s happened so many times. Every time it does happen, though, I feel humbled. I can’t tell you how many students have become doctors, and it never would have struck me at 14. They are so malleable. I see them at their youngest, and it’s amazing how much they can grow and learn.”

Ham Radio

In addition to teaching biology, Mr. Newman is known for ham radio club. He got his ham radio licensed in 1981, and he was so enthralled that by 1982 he launched a student club. Long before the days of email, Mr. Newman says, “The idea that you could talk speak instantaneously to 30 people on the other side of the world got me hooked.” Countless students have earned their amateur radio license with Mr. Newman’s support, and this year nine students earned a license. Over the past two years, Mr. Newman taught ham radio as part of an electronic STEM course, teaching kids geography, communication skills and some basic electronic theory.

What Alumni Remember

Students over the years remain appreciative to this day. Shelley Weiss (’91),  ham radio callsign, NE9H DE KB9BBB, says, “I cannot adequately express my appreciation about what you gave me years ago, fanning my love of science, of biology, setting me on the path to my career in medicine, and building a desire to pass those loves on to my own children! I will always cherish how you opened all of our horizons as our radio mentor.”

Elene Feigenbaum (’81) says, “You always involved your students in your hobbies through after-school clubs, like photography and amateur radio. You helped me decide on what photography and darkroom equipment to purchase and you helped me pass the amateur radio test and get my license (KA9LLZ) by allowing me to practice using Morse Code on your radio equipment.”

Shifra (Waxman) Kolsky (’89) says, “I loved your biology class when I was a freshman at ICJA and I was thrilled when my daughter Naomi was able to have you as a teacher, as well. Your energy and enthusiasm for the material came through in every class, as did your keen understanding of the teenage mind. Thank you so much for all you have taught two generations of my family!”

Aaron Comrov (’94) says, “My memories of his class and what we learned that semester have stayed with me for my entire life. I partially credit his influence and love of science for inspiring me to pursue a career in environmental policy. Thank you for teaching me and thank you for sticking around long enough that my first son, Ethan, currently has the pleasure of learning from you as well this year. May you be blessed with a long and healthy retirement.”

Rifi Blechman (’03) says, “For the four years that we were at ICJA, a group of us would eat lunch in Mr. Newman’s room daily. We’d sit at his desk in his goofy looking chair. Mr. Newman usually joined us, and he even started cooking spaghetti and sauce for us once a month. We had quite a following of people who joined us that Mr. Newman eventually needed to create a sign up sheet for spaghetti day.”

The number of students with memories to share are many.

The first time a second generation of students arrived in his class, Mr. Newman was surprised. As the years went on it happened more frequently. Eventually, he would begin class each year by asking the student to raise their hands if one of their parents were once in his class. “I started thinking that one day when a kid says, ‘My bubbe was in your class,’ then I’m going to throw in the towel.” Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, that year is this school year, with third generation students at ICJA and Hanna Sacks.

Once he decided to retire this year, it was a bittersweet year of “lasts.” “This is the last time I teach this material, my last parent teacher conference, the last opening meeting with faculty, the last time walking down hall as an ICJA teacher. What I will take with me are the memories.”

Mr. Newman plans to spend his well-earned retirement with his family, traveling, attending classes, enjoying his pen turning hobby and of course talking to long-time friends and making new ones on ham radio.

Email to add a memory or message to Mr. Newman. 

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