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Learning for Life

Learning for Life

Inspired Learning Strengthens Chicago’s Jewish Community

Jewish Day Schools and Spertus Institute share a commitment
to learning for life

Scholarship that lasts a lifetime. That’s what it really comes down to. Chicago’s Jewish community is more vibrant than ever, thanks to rich opportunities for Jewish education. With a selection of premier Jewish Day Schools and a world-class, graduate-level center like Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in our midst, there are opportunities to tap into soul-strengthening Jewish learning from age 3 to 93.

Today, Jewish Day Schools are academic powerhouses that harness both the intellectual challenge and the joy of learning inspired by Jewish tradition. They are able to shape a superior educational experience while strengthening students’ Jewish identity and preparing them to lead with compassion and confidence. Spertus Institute carries that same mission forward for adults, creating dynamic learning opportunities that inspire personal growth, leadership, and engagement in Jewish life.

Thus it was not a surprise to discover Spertus Institute students, alumni, and faculty among the parents and educators at Jewish Day Schools, using their leadership skills to foster Jewish journeys and academic acumen for a new generation.

We had the opportunity to interview educators proudly involved with Spertus and four of Chicago’s premier Jewish Day Schools. Here are their thoughts about Jewish Day School education, Jewish graduate education, and the importance of lifelong Jewish learning.

Dr. Paul Cantz is a parent and board member at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School and a member of the Spertus Institute faculty, where he has taught A Biblical Approach to Mental Health. He is a licensed board-certified clinical psychologist, an associate professor at Adler University-Chicago, and on the clinical faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Dr. Cantz also works as the training director for the Inpatient Therapy Program at Hartgrove Hospital.

Jackie Moss-Blumenfeld has taught Hebrew and Judaic Studies in Grades 1, 2, 3, and 5 at Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) for four years. Originally from Israel, she is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, where she earned her Bachelors in Fine Arts. While in the Army, she served in the Education Unit of the Israel Defense Forces, helping new immigrants integrate into Israeli society. She is working on her MA in Jewish Professional Studies at Spertus and is active at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel in Lakeview.

Dr. Karin Klein has been teaching 5th and 6th grade science at Solomon Schechter Day School for 10 years. She received her MA in Jewish Professional Studies from Spertus in 2014. She is an active member of the Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan (NTEHEM) in West Rogers Park and on the board of Companies that Care, which sponsors programs to promote access to higher education for students in underserved populations.

Hagit Lewis has been teaching Early Childhood Jewish Studies Education at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School for four years. She is also the Coordinator of Jewish Experiences for Families.  She received her MA in Jewish Professional Studies from Spertus in 2014. She was nominated for The Covenant Foundation’s 2015 Pomegranate Prize honoring Jewish educators for their exceptionalism as emerging professionals in Jewish educational settings across North America.

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

Paul: In actuality, Jewish learning is “lifelong learning.” The Jewish peoples’ love of knowledge, wisdom and holiness has contoured world history and remains relevant now, more than ever, in orienting society by preparing children and adults to think Jewishly. In an era of competing cultural pressures and intellectual distractions, ensuring that every Jewish child has access to and receives a high-quality Jewish education needs to be a priority. It’s never too late, though — a lack of a Jewish day school education should not represent an insurmountable barrier for Jewish learning later in life. An enthusiasm for Jewish learning anchors a Jew’s identity by connecting them to their heritage and infusing meaning into their daily lives, consequently setting the tone for a lifetime of communal engagement and religious practice.

Why did you decide to enroll at Spertus Institute?

Jackie: I decided to enroll in classes at Spertus for professional development reasons. I had just ended maternity leave and was feeling that I needed a bit of a change. I yearned to learn more. In my classes, I feel renewed and up-to-date with all the new and exciting things that are happening in the Jewish American platform.  

How has studying leadership at Spertus changed the way you view your work in the Jewish community? Have you been able to put new skills to work in the classroom?

Hagit: Dr. Barry Chazan, Founding Director of the Spertus MA in Jewish Professional Studies program and professor of Jewish Education, told me during our interview that I would gain a business card to the Jewish community if I join the program. He was absolutely right. During my learning at Spertus, I got to meet, understand and work with many leaders and soon-to-be leaders in the Chicago Jewish community from all different backgrounds. These relationships have helped me understand the key themes in Jewish-American communal life. Spertus also taught me to lead and teach with Jewish text.

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

Karin: 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 those experiences.

How do Jewish Day Schools and Spertus Institute contribute toward the vitality or value of Jewish life in Chicago? Does their reach go beyond that?

Paul: Simply put, the existence of thriving centers of Jewish learning justifies Chicago being a population center for Jews. Through engaging Jews on varying points in their educational journeys, these institutions complement each other’s missions by helping orient Chicagoland’s Jewish community towards the lifelong project of personal Jewish growth.  

Why do you choose to teach at a Jewish Day School?

Jackie: I am a great believer in Jewish education and I’m seeing how increasingly more important it is, especially in America. The value of tradition and continuity is extremely important to me and I love passing that passion for Judaism on to the next generation.

What do you wish Jewish families knew about the long-term value of a Jewish Day School education?

Hagit: Jewish education, especially for young children, can be the foundation for so many critical memories, bound to our traditions and seamlessly applied elsewhere. Jewish Day Schools are incubators for the values and ethics that we want our children to have. Regardless of a Jewish family's level of observance, a Day School education opens the door to a lifetime of identification with our heritage and links our children with the generations before them. One of my goals is to fully integrate and break down barriers between Jewish education, the secular curriculum, and the home.

Karin: A Jewish Day School deeply educates the whole child. Day school educators are not only interested in the intellectual and academic growth of their students; we want to educate students' brains, minds, and souls. As a science teacher, I have taught a lesson on the building up of sedimentary rock layers, as a preface to understanding the layered nature of Talmud commentary in a Rabbinics classroom. Day school students can draw from so many interacting sources of learning in their education.

How does your school power academic excellence?

Hagit: At Bernard Zell, our classrooms create an exhilarating challenge of academic study and cultural immersion that changes the game for elementary school. Here, 5,000-year-old traditions intersect with tomorrow’s technology to create extraordinary opportunities for learning. Every day is filled with discovery. Our classrooms become laboratories of debate and discovery, strengthening each student’s critical thinking skills, reenergizing their creativity, and building their sense of responsibility for their role in the school community.

Jackie: At Chicago Jewish Day School, we educate children to think clearly and deeply, to gain knowledge and acquire judgment and to respect diversity. We are committed to developing critical thinking and socially engaged intelligence that enables each individual to understand and participate effectively in the affairs of their community, country, Israel, and the world at large, in a collaborative effort to achieve a common good. 

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

Karin: Our teaching methods at Solomon Schechter are in line with the best practices of science education in which skill-building and attention to overarching scientific ideas drive the learning about particular science concepts. A thriving tech department in the school supports our use of technology. So STEM learning is not a stand-alone effort, in a particular classroom, rather it is deeply integrated into the everyday learning in science classrooms and other classrooms throughout the school.    

Paul: Akiba-Schechter is unique in that it aims to be a national leader in pedagogical approaches to Jewish learning by aligning themselves with and then enhancing the leading edge of best practices. To this end, Akiba recently secured a multi-year grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge to fund a Research & Development Department which “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.”

Discover Jewish Day Schools is a multi-year initiative, funded locally by the Crown Family, and managed by PRIZMAH: Center for Jewish Day Schools. Our goal is to provide Jewish families with the most relevant information to help them make the best decision about their child's education. Our project focuses on four Jewish Day Schools in the Chicago area. Learn more at

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and open to all. These opportunities enable personal growth, train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Graduate and professional programs, including programs for educators, are offered in the Chicago area through Spertus Institute’s Center for Jewish Learning. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, concerts and exhibitions — are offered at the Institute’s Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs and online. Learn more at

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pictured at left

Top left: Jackie Moss-Blumenfeld
Top right: Dr. Paul Cantz
Bottom left: Dr. Karin Klein
Bottom right: Hagit Lewis

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