Inspired learning strengthens Chicago’s Jewish community

Posted Tuesday, Jul 10th, 2018

Chicago's Jewish community is vibrant, thanks in part to rich opportunities for Jewish education. With a selection of Jewish day schools and the graduate-level Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, there are opportunities to tap into Jewish learning at every age.

What follows is a conversation about Jewish education and the importance of lifelong Jewish learning with four Spertus Institute students, alumni, and faculty who are also among the parents and educators at Jewish day schools, using their leadership skills to foster Jewish journeys and academic acumen for a new generation.

Dr. Paul Cantz is a parent and board member at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School and a member of the Spertus faculty. Jackie Moss-Blumenfeld teaches Hebrew and Judaic Studies at Chicago Jewish Day School. She is working on her MA in Jewish Professional Studies at Spertus.Dr. Karin Klein who teaches science at Solomon Schechter Day School, and Hagit Lewis, who teaches Early Childhood Jewish Studies Education at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School and is the Coordinator of Jewish Experiences for Families. Both Klein and Lewis received their MA degrees in Jewish Professional Studies from Spertus.

Why is Jewish education important? Why is it important for young people? Why is it important for adults?

Dr. Paul Cantz : Jewish learning is "lifelong learning." In an era of competing cultural pressures and intellectual distractions, ensuring that every Jewish child has access to high-quality Jewish education needs to be a priority for Jewish communities around the world. It's never too late, though-a lack of a day school education is not an insurmountable barrier to Jewish learning later in life.

Why did you choose to teach at a Jewish day school?

Jackie Moss-Blumenfeld: I am a great believer in Jewish education and I'm seeing how increasingly important it is, especially in America. I love passing a passion for Judaism on to the next generation.

How has studying leadership at Spertus changed the way you view your work in the Jewish community?

Hagit Lewis: Dr. Barry Chazan, founder of the Spertus Jewish Professional Studies program and professor of Jewish Education, told me that I'd gain a business card to the Jewish community through the program. He was right! I got to meet, understand, and work with leaders and soon-to-be leaders from all different backgrounds.

What part of your experience at Spertus did you most enjoy?

Dr. Karin Klein: It was invigorating to lock horns intellectually with the professors at Spertus. Having the luxury of engaging deeply with them on their topics of expertise was literally mind-expanding. I loved it. I treasure the experiences.

How do Jewish Day Schools and Spertus contribute toward the vitality of Jewish life in Chicago?

Dr. Paul Cantz: The existence of thriving centers of Jewish learning, such as Akiba-Schechter and Spertus, justifies Chicago being a population center for Jews. These institutions complement each other's missions by helping orient our community toward lifelong personal Jewish growth.

How does your school power academic excellence?

Jackie Moss-Blumenfeld: At Chicago Jewish Day School, we educate children to think clearly and deeply, to gain knowledge and acquire judgment and respect diversity. We are committed to developing critical thinking and socially engaged intelligence.

Hagit Lewis: At Bernard Zell, we create an exhilarating challenge of academic study and cultural immersion that changes the game for elementary school. Our classrooms become laboratories of debate and discovery, strengthening students' critical thinking skills, reenergizing their creativity, and building their sense of responsibility.

How is your school at the forefront of innovation in the classroom?

Dr. Karin Klein: At Solomon Schechter, STEM learning is not a stand-alone effort in a particular classroom. It is deeply integrated into the everyday learning in science classrooms and other classrooms throughout the school. A thriving tech department in the school supports our use of technology.

Dr. Paul Cantz: Akiba recently secured a multi-year grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge to fund a Research & Development Department that "studies, prototypes, researches, and scales new teaching and learning approaches, practices, and systems that advance relevant learning for our students and the field of education."

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