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2 Shevat 5781

January 15, 2021

Dear ICJA Family,

It’s a short Friday, and this will also be a short update.

Yesterday, when I wrote about our upcoming virtual assembly for Martin Luther King Day, several teachers sent me notes reminding me how they have built into their classes discussions about equality and the dangers of racism.

One teacher noted that the concept of everyone being different but everyone created בצלם אלוקים [G-d’s image] is a regular discussion point in his class. Another talked about the way her class addressed the recent riots in DC. But what struck me as the most thought-provoking approach was Mrs. Kahan’s note in which she noted that not only does she address this with her 10th-grade students, but her AP students have to prepare “sourced argument papers about the pros and cons of teaching Huck Finn with all the racism in the book.” Kol haKavod to Mrs. Kahan and her students. I look forward to reading some of those essays.

Today, Student Council sponsored hot chocolate at lunchtime– just another nice pick-me-up after a long week of “end of the quarter” tests. Thanks to Student Council President Ronen Lavi and Vice President Aharon Falk for making it happen.

Earlier today, Rabbi Fliegelman sent information to all of our 11th grade about the upcoming PSAT. The fee of the test is $17. Please make sure that checks are submitted ASAP.

If you have time – I hope you enjoy my pre-Shabbat drasha – click here

Candle Lighting today is at 4:24 pm.

Shabbat shalom, stay safe, stay in contact, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

1 Shevat 5781

January 14, 2021

Dear ICJA Family,

Today’s big news was that the Village of Skokie’s Board of Health just announced that all of our faculty and staff are eligible to receive COVID 19 vaccinations beginning next week! While it will be some time before all of our remote staff will be able to return to in-person teaching and even more time before our entire ICJA family can be vaccinated, this is a very welcome next step in a very unusual year. We thank the Village for making this happen, in particular, Mayor Van Dusen, and Susan Reisberg and Jennifer David of Skokie’s Department of Public Health.

This morning, we began 1st period with a video produced by our JUMP committee. As you may recall from an earlier update, JUMP is a national leadership program sponsored by NCSY, whose goal is to train and empower high school students to create positive change in their schools. Members of this committee are Laura Bellows, Sarah Friedman, David Gaffen, Shiri Kolom, Attar Benmelech, and Jonathan Thomas, and their advisors are Rabbi Fox and Mrs. Zeffren. Here is the video – you’ll enjoy it (and it’s only 2 minutes long).

Mrs. Olivia Friedman, Rabbi Yitzchak Sprung, and Mrs. Shelley Stopek have been working for months with the ATT to create a special Presidents’ Day Teacher Conference Program for our teachers. Kol haKavod to them for creating a special track for “Torah from Eretz Yisrael,” which will include presentations by Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, and Rivi Frankel, who will give a virtual tour of sites from Sefer Shmuel. It is incredible what we can now do because of our new facility with teleconferencing (aka zoom)!

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As part of our initiative on teaching about equal rights, we are pleased to have Rev. Roger D. Cheeks, Senior Director of Outreach, at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Rev. Cheeks will be addressing the whole school via zoom. I also want to thank him for the unique online curriculum about racism that he created, which will become part of Mr. Cooper’s US History curriculum. And of course, a shout-out to our alum, Yael Eckstein, the CEO of IFCJ, for making this possible!

Tomorrow we will skip 1st period and periods 10, 11, and 12 meet. Dismissal is at 1:58 pm.

Stay safe, stay in contact, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

29 Tevet 5781

January 13, 2021

Dear ICJA Family,

Before I get to my update – I need your help with what should be a small item but may be developing into a significant problem – morning tefillah.

What do I mean?

Simply that since the reopening of school and due to the COVID restrictions surrounding breakfast, our shacharit minyan has, regretfully, been optional. But tefillah is not optional, it’s a mitzvah. Therefore, we’ve relied on parents and students to make sure that everyone davens before school. Thankfully many are, whether in a synagogue minyan or at home.

But anecdotally, we know that not everyone is davening, and it’s very troublesome. After all, at the end of the day, while we all want our students and children to be well educated Jews who can study texts and understand tradition, it’s the ritual of tefillah that will do more to keep them connected to G-d and the Jewish community.

I could cite studies to support this, but deep down, we all know that it is true. Because Jewish communal life has always been centered around the synagogue, and those who make prayer a regular part of their lives, have even been proven to be happier, live longer, and live better.

Of course, I know getting a teenager up in the morning is tough, and many parents have to leave for work before their children leave for school. In fact, each of us can give a long list of why tefillah is a challenge. 

But what these past eleven months have taught us is that challenges are just an opportunity to be creative and prove our mettle. So let’s apply the same determination to getting everyone’s engagement with G-d back on track.

    1. Even if having to eat breakfast outside after minyan is difficult – come to the ICJA morning minyan at least once or twice a week.

    2. If that’s too hard, then recite modeh ani, birchot hashachar, and Shema, eat breakfast, and then come to school for our minyan.

    3. If even that is too hard, make sure to pray a full tefillah at home, do it at the regular time that a minyan is meeting, and then come to school.

And please remember, our greatest pride is the partnership between school and parents. In regular years, we assumed the responsibility for a mandatory morning minyan. (Hopefully, in the coming months, we will be able to do this again.) But right now, we can’t. So, parents – it’s your turn to take the lead!

And now to a few brief items –

1. Tonight, 7:00 pm, is the second session of Ms. Avner’s Time Management seminar. Even if you didn’t attend the first session, this is a worthwhile program and an opportunity for everyone to learn how to find more time in their day! Here is the link to join –

2. Our Erika’s Lighthouse Mental Health Awareness Club has been hard at work, trying to find new ways to help our students overcome challenges they may be facing. Their latest initiative is to create a virtual mental health curriculum with videos crafted by our own “Doc Phil” (Mr. Zbaraz) and Julie Avner, alongside additional resources. They ask that students take a moment to complete this survey: to make sure they’re addressing YOUR mental health questions.

3. Mrs. Olivia Friedman’s 11th grade Navi class just completed a great review project creating “TANAKH TV” shows about the Davidic dynasty.  The projects focused on chapters 1-11 of Melachim Alef and to quote Mrs. Friedman: “They have truly managed to bring the Tanakh to life- and the most impressive part is that they did that whether their groups were in-person with them or joining via Facebook or Zoom.” (BTW if you loved the series “The Crown” you’ll love these projects!)

    Behind Closed Doors by Laura Bellows, Sophie Fretzin, Sarah Friedman, Elisheva Greiniman, and Dini Robinson 

    Supreme Succession by Abby Aberman, Maya Wasserman, Shiri Kolom, and Hannah Rothner 

    Check Mate by Hannah Stein, Attar Benmelech, Kayla Well, Leora Lakser and Yolie Starck

Tonight and Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Shevat, which also means that after davening the Gendler family is sponsoring donuts and hot chocolate – so why not make tomorrow the day to start coming back to minyan!?

Tomorrow is also a meeting of the Philosophy Club – 6th period in the Wrestling Practice Gym (there is a great drasha in that location 😉 ).

Dismissal tomorrow is at the regular time of 5:39 pm.

Stay safe, stay in contact, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

28 Tevet 5781

January 12, 2021

Dear ICJA Family,

Did you know that in addition to all the student support services we offer: Academic Services, REACH, Social Services, College Guidance, and Mechanchim, we also offer free math tutoring four days a week from 11:30-5:00 pm?

We do! And I get to see it in action every day when I walk through the Math/Science Commons. Because this year, to maximize access while minimizing risks, our two math tutors, Max Sigal and Leslie Ongyaco, “set up shop” in the commons. 

Max and Leslie are students at Northwestern University, and they have proven to be an invaluable resource for our teachers and students. Every day they are working with students, available for some quick help or longer-term tutoring. Students in need of a little math assistance should approach them while they are free or schedule a time. It’s a great resource, and it’s made a difference for a lot of students.

Yesterday, I shared the honor that Mr. Cooper received being selected for a fellowship at the Tikvah Foundation. But he is not the only one of our faculty doing exciting professional development. Today, Ms. Sennett and Rabbi Sprung participated in the fourth seminar of a year-long series of seminars from the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Peace. ICJA was selected as one of just a handful of schools to be part of this exciting program that offers teachers and, ultimately, our students a better understanding of Middle East politics and world views. This program, coordinated by former congressman, Robert Wexler, brings together top educators and experts in politics, history, and especially the Arab-Israeli conflict to learn together and reimagine how we can better educate our communities.

On the topic of Israel – our senior girls are in the midst of interviews for their “5th year,” and our senior boys are finishing their applications for next year. This year the process is very different because of the restrictions of COVID. But the enthusiasm for yeshiva/seminary/Tzahal year is very high!

Thursday night will be another 11th  & 12th grade boys’ Mishmar – 8:00 pm at ICJA. There will be great learning with our mechanchim and of course, cholent to go.

Tomorrow we will skip 11th period, and dismissal is at 4:58.

Stay safe, stay in contact, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

27 Tevet 5781

January 11, 2021

Dear ICJA Family,

While we still have two weeks left in the first semester, planning is already underway for next year at ICJA. Department chairs are meeting to determine the number of sections needed, new electives are being discussed, budgets are in process, and the core question of “what can we do to further advance the inspiration and education of our students” is on everyone’s mind.

And, all of our seniors should have received their final second-semester schedules, and soon our juniors will be participating in our intensive college planning seminar “Decisions.” 

Yesterday, we welcomed dozens of prospective families to tour our school, and Wednesday, there will be another round of tours. Kudos to our director of admissions, Suzy Nussbaum, for coordinating this recruitment program despite the restrictions of COVID and to all of our parents and student ambassadors who led tours. 

Thank you…

Parents Ambassadors – Rabbi Zev Drutman, Julie Hartman, Wendy Malkin, Yvette Miller, Leslie Wortman; and 

Student Ambassadors – Jordyn Baker, Ilan Blumenthal, Charli Einstein, Hersch Linzer, Adina Margolin, Zack Miller, Audrey Perlman, Jonathan Thomas, and Leah Zelden.

And mazal tov to Mr. Josh Cooper, ICJA history and economics teacher who was just awarded one of Tikvah’s inaugural Abraham Lincoln Teacher’s Fellowships. From hundreds of applicants nationwide, Mr. Cooper was one of 36 teachers chosen for this great opportunity. To learn more about this fellowship, click here

While I’m bragging about Mr. Cooper – here is what Dr. Green sent to me about his class she observed – 

“In Mr. Cooper’s AP US class, he challenged his students with political cartoons and historical electoral maps to analyze regional divisions between rural and urban communities in our past and how that compares to our current electoral college statistics. The students were asked to understand Immigration Laws in the context of the Wizard of Oz as an allegory of American politics in the 1900s. It felt like an upper level college course to me!!!”

Starting Friday, Starr Catering will be offering a new erev Shabbat menu of macaroni and cheese. The grab and go options will be more limited, and if students want the same options as in the past, please pre-order wraps and salads. The link for the website is here.  

Tomorrow we will skip 3rd period, and dismissal is at 4:58.

Stay safe, stay in contact, and be inspired!


Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D.

Dean, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

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