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3 Tevet 5781

December 18, 2020

Dear ICJA Family,

Chanukah Sameach!

While the school day has just started, I wanted to send this note to share the good news that, bli ayin ha’raall of our students, staff, and faculty have received negative results on the COVID-19 test!

This outcome is a testament to our families, who have worked hard to observe the safety protocols during this pandemic. As a result, while some of our parents and students have caught the virus (and B”H, all have recovered or on the path towards recovery), there has been no instance of transmission of the virus in school.

Of course, the next two weeks of vacation will be critical to our ongoing battle for our community’s health and safety. Please do not take any unnecessary risks during this crucial time! 

As I have mentioned earlier, we plan to conduct two more all-school tests. The first test will be on Monday, January 4th, and the second on January 18th. These tests will be essential, and students who are not in school for these tests (and not among the long-term remote students) will not be allowed to return without taking a PCR test.

We hope that by mid-January, the situation in our community will improve sufficiently to stop regular testing.

One more item to share – today’s School Spirit Day. Something amazing has happened during this pandemic – despite all of the restrictions and concerns, our school community has grown stronger. This was apparent today, not only by the numbers of students wearing Aces’ apparel but also by yesterday’s joy and the appreciation that was shared.

Students randomly approached me or Rabbi Fox and Mrs. Zeffren (our special activities team) and thanked them for the Chanukah programming. And it wasn’t just a few kids – there were many.

It’s also something I saw in a writing assignment that Mrs. Goldstein gave to her senior class, entitled “Dear Future Ace.” Students were asked to select an aspect of the school that has made a difference in their lives and write a letter or essay about it. From Talmud class to Academic Support, robotics to sports, the essays were creative and so meaningful!

I look forward to sharing with everyone the final product, which should be completed soon. 

The beginning of Winter Vacation and Shabbat is rapidly approaching. Dismissal today is at 1:58 pm, and candle lighting is at 4:01 pm.

My pre-Shabbat dvar Torah this week is about looking back and reconsidering our actions. To watch, click here. 

Enjoy the last moments of Chanukah, stay safe, stay connected, and be inspired! And remember, vacation is a time to recharge and relax, but make sure to daven with a minyan, learn some Torah every day, and even read a good book!

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

2 Tevet 5781

December 17, 2020

Dear ICJA Family,

Chanukah Sameach!

Today was a great day, filled with Chanukah celebrations, food, and fun!

This morning was a special surprise “pop-up event” sponsored by an anonymous donor. Beginning first period, every grade class had a chance to play “Knockerball” (aka Bubble Soccer) outside. The boys used the soccer field, and the girls were on the west lawn. It was a lot of fun to play and watch – and it was pre-approved by our medical committee – because being in a bubble is probably the best guarantee of social distancing you can imagine. 

Of course, I also had a chance to play, first with the freshmen. A little later, the seniors invited me to play – what I thought would be Knockerball (a variation on soccer) but found out only after my bubble was in place that it was “last man standing.” It was fun, but let’s just say that thanks to Zeke Zwelling, I wasn’t the last man standing šŸ™‚ .

Since our “pop-ups” are surprise activities, we knew that not everyone would be dressed appropriately for the game. Therefore, as part of the event we also gave out “swag” to all of our students – special ICJA Chanukah sweatpants. 

While Knockerball was going on, our ICJA Band and I had a chance to participate in a JUF sponsored zoom event with the Jewish community of Bahrain. The Nonoo family are the leaders of their community and Ebrahim Nonoo led the candle lighting from Bahrain. I had a chance to deliver a dvar Torah and our students played three Chanukah songs for everyone. It was amazing to listen to the story of this family of Jews, living in an Arab country that has only recently established ties with Israel. And it was uplifting watching them light the candles and sing Maoz Tzur from the other side of the globe!

At lunch, there were latkes galore for the entire school – prepared by our in house caterers and sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Stopek in honor of our students and teachers. It was a great treat to end a great morning.

And while we are on the topic of food, our donor for today’s “pop-up” also sponsored a take home dinner for all of our teachers. It was pizza, suganiyot and chips – but more importantly it was another expression of our thanks to our teachers for their dedication to all of our students. 

Tonight, our parking lot was converted into a giant roller rink for a nighttime program for ICGC. I had a chance to drive by and watch all the girls coming back for an evening of fun and bonding. Thanks to Mrs. Gold and Mrs. Kraft for helping to organize this event. 

Tomorrow, the last day of Chanukah, is going to be School Spirit Day. Everyone should wear their best Aces apparel and bring the spirit of ICJA to this day before our Winter Break! It’s also the final day of our Interact Club’s Toiletries donation drive to benefit the Ark. Please bring things in to help the less fortunate!!

Tomorrow is also erev Shabbat. We will skip 4th period and periods 7,8 and 9 meet in the afternoon. Dismissal is at 1:58 pm and Shabbat candle lighting is at 4:01 pm.

Finally, with Winter Vacation just a day away, I want to remind everyone to please not let your guard down and continue to be vigilant about wearing a mask (indoors and outside), washing your hands and practicing social distancing. If you take unnecessary risks over vacation, they may G-d forbid, not only impact your health but the health of our entire community. Please help us keep our community safe and our school open!

Chanukah Sameach, stay safe, stay connected, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

1 Tevet 5781

December 16, 2020

Dear ICJA Family,

Chanukah Sameach!

Today was a great day that started on a very positive note with a special Rosh Chodesh minyan, followed by sufganiyot and hot chocolate, sponsored by the Gendler family. The only problem was that it made me wish to return to having regular shacharit minyanim for the entire school. 

I hope we can resume the mandatory morning minyan soon. But in the meantime, I encourage everyone to join us at our daily shacharit minyan. If it’s hard to make it every day, pick a couple of days a week to come. Our minyan is safe, but even more, our minyan is a chance to start the day the way it should, with tefillah b’tzibbur. It’s what Rabbi Leibtag spoke about yesterday when he said that being Jewish is about creating a relationship with G-d. And if the only time we call out to G-d is when we need something desperately – it’s as if we are asking for a favor from a “stranger.”

Ok, that’s my mussar for today (but I do mean it!), so let me tell you about a class I visited. It was Rabbi Myers’ 10th-grade girls’ Navi class. When I walked in, he was talking about how an “etnachta” (a trope that indicates a pause) impacts the vowels under some words. To hear him explain the grammar was joyous, because he made it seem so simple. But then he went further and asked the girls to explain why there was a pause – which they figured out.

But then came the best part, where he asked who else beyond the prophet Shmuel was known as an “Ish Elokim” [a man of G-d]. Right away, Michal Bechhofer answered – that Moshe was called that as well. Which prompted Hadassah Bernstein to chime in that Moshe was also called an “eved Hashem” [a servant of G-d], and Rabbi Myers added that Moshe was also called a Navi. 

All of that happened in less than 10 minutes. But in that time, I got to see great teaching and great learning, and students’ abilities to bring information from other places into a discussion. Kol HaKavod.

Today’s COVID testing took only 45 minutes (we knocked 15 minutes off the previous time)! Thank you to our volunteers, Rebecca Gorenstein, Liz Geifman and Sarah Cohen, and staff for helping make this test run so smoothly! 

After the testing, our faculty were treated to a delicious lunch, courtesy of the Academy Associates. Thank you to Leslie Wortman and Yael Shiner for making all of the arrangements.

Tomorrow is “Lunchtime Latkes” for everyone in honor of Chanukah, and there will be ICJA Chanukah swag for students.

Finally, beginning on January 6th, Julie Avner will be offering an online three-part “Time Management Seminar” for our students. See attached.

Chanukah Sameach, stay safe, stay connected, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

29 Kislev 5781

December 15, 2020

Dear ICJA Family,

Chanukah Sameach!

Last night was a lot of fun as we gave Chanukah gift bags to our students as they left school. And this morning was even better, as our JUMP committee introduced their CO-PO Project (מן הכוח אל הפועל).

Each month our students will introduce a different theme designed to increase the religious inspiration of their peers. Today, Rabbi Aaron Leibtag gave a fantastic presentation about creating a relationship with G-d and the problem of religious apathy. His stories and his message were spot on – and we thank him for joining us. Finally, our students were asked to complete a “religious wellness questionnaire.” Any student who hasn’t had the chance to submit their form – click here.

Tomorrow will be a busy day, starting with Rosh Chodesh davening followed by sufganiyot and then COVID testing (starting about 10:30). Some have asked why we are testing so close to a vacation. The answer is because we are trying to have a layer of added protection – this time to help people be safe over vacation. There are two more tests scheduled – one January 4th and another during the week of the 18th. Hopefully, by then, Illinois’ overall situation will improve, and regular testing will no longer be necessary.

By the way, Dr. Kahan made it to Israel early today, and starting tomorrow he will be back at work! If you need to speak with him, Dr. Kahan will have daily zoom office hours during 5th and 6th periods. You can also feel free to email him with any questions you might have.

Last week, we began a unique alumni campaign to recognize ICJA alumni who have done remarkable things during this pandemic. Their efforts truly inspire! And today, not only do we have another three alumni, Josh Shpayer, Neeli Engelhart, and Rabbi Menachem Goldberger – but one of them was a classmate of mine! (I sent the email to my entire class so that we could all “shep nachas”!) 

To read about all the alumni who were selected – click here. We have a great school that has produced amazing alumni since 1942. If you have any doubt, these and so many other alumni prove it every day by making a difference in this world!

Tomorrow is an early dismissal day (4:58), and we skip 10th period. 

Chanukah Sameach, stay safe, stay connected, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

28 Kislev 5781

December 14, 2020

Dear ICJA Family,

Welcome back and Chanukah Sameach!

This afternoon I had the chance to drop into Rabbi Drutman’s math class. He was teaching his class how to graph functions, and while doing so, he asked, “what’s 3 to 1st power.” A voice from “somewhere,” but definitely not from one of the students in the classroom, answered. It took me a second to realize that it was Dave Holman, a member of the senior class who has been studying remotely this year – and the voice came over the iPad.

Since August, when we reopened, there have been students studying remotely, and every day additional students may have to remote in because of some COVID-related matter. Over the summer, we decided to limit the remote option to COVID-related matters because we were concerned that if students could choose which days to attend and which to remote in, it would be difficult for teachers.

As a classroom teacher myself, I can attest that working with remote and in-person students can be challenging. Engaging both requires two different sets of skills – it’s not as simple a putting down an iPad and leaving it alone. 

But in addition, we know that as hard as we try, remote learning is not the same. It can be close, but the ideal is still in-person learning, which encourages easier interaction and easier relationship building. 

Recently, some have begun to look towards remote learning as an option for a “mental health day” or allow families to start or end a vacation earlier. We’ve tried our best to be consistent, but in looking back, we haven’t been perfect, and we apologize if you were among those who we said “no” to – but we’re trying to do what is best.

We may not always agree, but in general, if a student needs a “day off,” let’s make sure it is a day off and not a day staring at a screen. Every student gets up to four days per quarter at a parent’s discretion, so if you need to use it for whatever reason, just let us know. 

If you are not feeling well, and your symptoms are COVID-like, stay home and zoom in. But remember that before you come back, we will need to see a negative PCR Covid test and symptoms must be improved, or instead of PCR test, an alternative diagnosis from a doctor. Otherwise, we will need you to stay at home for 14 days.

Finally, regarding extending vacation to visit family or just relax, we cannot allow you to remote in during that time. Please respect our school time, and please use our vacation time. 

Of course, if you have any questions, please contact me or Dr. Green, who has facilitated all of our remote learning. 

On a very different note, just a little while ago, I helped Dr. Kahan carry his suitcases out to the car to go to the airport and catch his flight to Israel. It was a bittersweet moment – he has been such an integral part of the school for a long time and a good friend. But is also going on aliyah – a dream that we should all have, and please G-d one day soon all fulfill! We are eternally grateful for all he has contributed to our school and look forward to seeing him this year at graduation and in Israel.

Tomorrow after davening, we will introduce a new initiative for spirituality at ICJA. Six Junior students, Laura Bellows, Sarah Friedman, David Gaffen, Shiri Kolom, Attar Benmelech, and Jonathan Thomas, together with Rabbi Fox and Mrs. Zeffren have been hard at work as part of the JUMP program (that’s the program that brought us student-to-student), to create programing for ICJA. Tomorrow they will kick-off this project with a video and a presentation by Rabbi Aaron Leibtag to all of our classes. Thank you to each of them!

I hoped you liked our Chanukah bags that we distributed this evening, and thank you to Mrs. Zwelling and Mrs. Nussbaum for coordinating everything. Special thanks to our ICJA band members, Noah Brody, Yamin Elkaim, Noah Fensterheim, Moshe Lodkin, for adding music to the event. 

Tomorrow is an early dismissal day (4:58), and we skip 1st period. 

Chanukah Sameach, stay safe, stay connected, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

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