Judy Finkelstein-Taff, Head of School at Chicago
Jewish Day School (CJDS), was one of three educators from across the spectrum
of Jewish life to receive The Covenant Foundation’s 2013 Covenant Award on Oct. 27. Recipients were honored for
their commitment, vision and wide-ranging impact by hundreds of Jewish
community and educational leaders, philanthropists, students, colleagues and
All of them made significant marks through innovative approaches and
directions in Jewish education.
“The 2013 Award recipients have achieved
excellence in very different settings and contexts, but a common theme runs
through their work – celebrating the diversity of Jewish life and community,”
said Eli N. Evans, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, in remarks at its
annual awards dinner, this year in Chicago.
“Our Rabbis reflected upon the miracle that all
of humanity in its diversity could descend from a single human being. For our
Award recipients, honoring this diversity underlies all that they do – through
a camp program that has become a national model for inclusivity, a community
school that brings together Jews of all backgrounds and denominations, and an
educational methodology that values and nurtures multiple intelligences and
The Award, among the most prominent citations
on the Jewish landscape, goes to three educators every year after a rigorous
selection process. Including this year’s awardees, 69 Jewish educators have
received a Covenant Award since its establishment in 1991, and nearly 50 of
them attended the presentation.
their acceptance speeches, recipients identified passions that have shaped and
propelled them, and the primacy among Jewish educators in cementing community
engagement, vitality and continuity.
the Covenant Award from Sara Crown Star, Finkelstein-Taff said Jewish education
and those who practice it reflect the positive attributes of the Jewish
community as a whole.
are a resilient people who have a long history of facing our future by taking
risks and facing adversity. No one
promised us it would be easy, and no one promised us that we would not have
challenges. This award signifies the promise that we accept the challenges of
sustaining and ensuring a vibrant Jewish future together.”
Head of School at CJDS since 2004, Finkelstein-Taff is a life-long Jewish
educator who has worked across a spectrum of educational venues and imbued
students, parents, colleagues – and everyone she touches – with a passion for
learning, connection and growth that is deep and pervasive.
to head CJDS beginning in its second year, Finkelstein-Taff brought experiences
and perspectives from her own upbringing, education and career to firmly
establish and grow what is now one of the most highly regarded Jewish day
schools in the Chicago area.
success as an inspiring educator, leader, team-builder, and counselor - guided
by a vision for how a pluralistic day school should feel and look - is reflected
by a variety of indicators. The outstanding and meteoritic growth of the
school, from seven students entering first grade when she joined CJDS, to more
than 180 in junior kindergarten to eighth grade today, is but one.
tangible is a purposeful diversity of thought pervading nearly every aspect of
the school, promoting a sense of community, cooperation and respect among all
stakeholders and across denominations.
Head of School from the near beginning, and with a near-blank slate, Finkelstein-Taff
was devoted to building such a culture, brick by brick. She created real
mechanisms for the involvement of Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox
rabbis on the school’s board, sought the active involvement of parents from the
start, and built bridges to other Jewish and secular schools in the Chicago
to her educational philosophy, she seeks to make a welcoming home and
destination for not only students, but also for their extended families and for
the community at large. Her presence is felt everywhere, from the weekly Kabbalat Shabbat,to a program engaging students’ grandparents and weaving a
multi-generational thread through the school’s culture.
traces her commitment to Jewish education and community back to Phoenix, Arz.,
where her parents were committed to Israel and Jewish community, and were among
the founders of the first Jewish day school in the area.
much as this is the greatest professional honor I will ever receive, this award
is not as much about me as it is about you,” she said to those gathered for her
acceptance remarks. “Whether you are a student, a lay leader, a rabbi or a
professional working in the trenches, this is about our Jewish future and the
future we are building for generations to come.”
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the
Crown Family Philanthropies. Members of the Crown family – including James
Crown, Sara Crown Star, and Lester Crown – presented the three recipients and
bestowed the Award. Each of the 2013 recipients received $36,000, and each of their