Every year a small but significant number of students join the Academy family, with little to no Orthodox Jewish education. They arrive from public schools or secular private schools with a strong desire for Jewish education and spiritual growth. Some
of them come after positive experiences in NCSY programming or from families who are growing in Jewish observance.
To transfer to a Jewish day school education in high school is on its own a huge leap, without even considering the cost of tuition. Thanks to the Shay Scholars Endowment Fund, we at Ida Crown Jewish Academy are able to remove the financial obstacles, offering students from public schools a tuition scholarship.
Hadar Ramot transferred after her freshman year from Glenbrook South High School. She had started becoming interested in Torah
and mitzvot through Junior NCSY. During her freshman year in public high school, she had already committed to learning more, taking on additional mitzvot and even wearing skirts. “I had friends at Glenbrook South, but it is really hard when you’re
trying to grow and your friends don’t know that side of you,” she says. With the encouragement of her rabbis and peers, she proposed to her parents to switch high schools, a request that took a lot of convincing. “My whole summer was invested in coming here—applying for scholarships, filling out applications and learning to read and write Hebrew. I was trying to convince my parents while trying to convince myself that this was a good idea.”
Now, after completing a year-and-a-half at ICJA, Hadar couldn’t be prouder. “My first two weeks, I wanted out—there was too much work. But, I got so much support from friends and teachers. I stuck it out and I completed a full year at the Academy—something I never thought I could do.”
While there is no official mechina (beginner’s program) at ICJA, teachers, administrators and students work tirelessly to help new students from public school adjust to ICJA. “My teachers accommodated me the whole time. When I didn’t know how to daven, my teachers tagged the siddur for me. Now I know exactly how to daven. My teachers sat with me, learned with me and caught up with me. They and my friends made sure everything is okay and that I was happy and not overwhelmed,” says Hadar.
Junior Seth Wasserman, who started at the Academy as a freshman, says his first year teachers were instrumental in his transition to Jewish day school. Although he came to the Academy with limited Hebrew skills and knowledge, he was so successful that he moved into honors courses for sophomore year. “I had amazing teachers freshman year. Rabbi Fliegelman really helped me
grow as a person and as a Jew. He taught me about being Jewish in today’s world and taught me about life. Another teacher taught me to read and learn better so I would be more confident in class. Other teachers let me take tests orally.”
Seth says it’s thanks to his friends that he is able to keep up with honors coursework. “I’m missing a lot of background information, especially regarding Halacha because I’ve only been keeping Shabbat on and off for two years. Students will help me out so that I can understand the information in class.”
Regardless of their grades in Judaic courses, both Hadar and Seth say their Jewish studies classes are ultimately about personal growth. “For me, it’s more important to get more knowledge than to get a good grade. As long as I’m able to understand the
concept I’m happy with myself,” says Seth.
And as for her parents, says Hadar, “My parents are definitely proud of me because they know that this was the hardest decision I made in my life. I changed my whole life to come here. I spend so much more time on school than I ever did. They like to hear about what I learn at school. It’s all about being happy where you are.”