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neshama-1The first Nourishing the Neshama program for this year, “The Home, the School, the Community,” featured Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University, along with two of our elementary day school principals, Rabbi Eli Samber of Arie Crown and Rabbi Linzer of Hillel Torah. The three panelists all spoke about the challenges today of creating a connection to God for ourselves and our children and of the importance to do so.

Rabbi Linzer told the more than 150 attendees at the program at Or Torah, “The most powerful way to impact our children is through our own behavior. They see right through everything we tell them and look only at what we do.”

Building upon those words, Rabbi Samber said, “The relationship between parent and child is template for our relationship with Hashem. Our children are not only watching us, but through our relationship, they are experiencing the building blocks for how they should relate to Hashem.”

To enhance our own spirituality and that of our children, Dr. Pelcovitz advised parents to “get rid of the rush in your life. Spirituality is stillness.” It is during the times that we put aside the communication devices when our kids are around, and seeing them do the same, that we can really listen and connect with our children with empathy.

Dr. Pelcovitz also advised that parents build in new rituals for those mitzvot that are becoming rote.

Rabbi Matanky moderated the program and the question and answer session.

The next Nourishing the Neshama program will be a similar panel focusing on teenagers. There will also be a community-wide teen tisch in many synagogues and a program to enhance Shabbat at home.

Ida Crown Jewish Academy has engaged community synagogues and institutions to partner in an effort to engage parents and community members in conversations about spirituality. The initiative is an outgrowth of ICJA’s efforts to improve students’ relationship to prayer because tefillah has been identified in national surveys as a key indicator of successful day school experiences.

In order to engage students, though, says Rabbi Matanky we have to reach outside of the four walls of our building to strengthen the entire Modern Orthodox community. “As a leading Orthodox institution in Chicago, our responsibility extends beyond the students in our school. A strong Jewish community builds spiritually-sound Jewish teens.”

Students need an additional level of engagement prior to focusing on intensive prayer programming in school. “What we found is that we need to engage the entire family in order to elevate teenagers’ connection to spirituality,” says Rabbi Matanky.

Last year, to open the dialogue with families and community members as partners in our teenagers’ spiritual education, ICJA partnered with the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel, NSCY, the YU Institute for University-School Partnership and Congregations KINS, Chovevei Tzion, KJBS and Or Torah to present three “Community Conversations: Bringing Meaning to Mitzvot” in three neighborhoods. Each forum included a panel of three leading rabbis who addressed the challenges and necessities to creating an authentic and spiritually-rich environment at home.

Building on the energy of the forums, partnered with institutions and synagogues to present a community Shabbatonim last spring.

The program is part of ICJA’s Strategic Plan for school improvement. “On the Mark!,” ICJA’s Strategic Plan, has had far-reaching influence on nearly every area of the school. From finances to curriculum, this plan is guiding the school community to further the mission of academic excellence for all students. Consulting funding for On the Mark! is provided by a joint grant from the Institute for University School Partnership of the Center for the Jewish Future of Yeshiva University and PEJE (Partner for Excellence in Jewish Education).

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