The following remarks were given by Wendy Newberger at a recent Wexner reunion at the Chicago Jewish Day School.
Good evening, I am Wendy Newberger, Wexner Class of 1999 and Founding Board member of Chicago Jewish Day School. I am honored to be welcoming you here this evening. This may be the first Wexner Reunion of its kind here in Chicago – and we are thrilled to have such a wonderful turnout of Wexner Heritage and Wexner Fellows from across so many years.
You may be wondering what the impedance for this reunion was…and you may be surprised to learn that it did not come from the Wexner Foundation, nor our own Federation – rather, it came from a group of Wexner Heritage and Fellow participants. A group who felt that their Wexner experiences influenced them in ways beyond the classroom, beyond learning and beyond awesome travel and kosher food! It impacted where they sent their children to school…where they chose to work….where they use their leadership skills and passion…. and in some cases, where they invest in the future of Jewish Chicago. This group includes parents, teachers, board members, founders and supporters of CJDS. This group made significant life choices that were largely influenced by their Wexner experience. This influence came in two significant ways….The Wexner experience provided a leadership network for us and it inspired a beautiful perspective on the power of inclusivity.
Let me explain – and hopefully that will help you understand why we, the CJDS Wexner participants across programs, years and cohorts – wanted to bring you here, to this space to re-unite….to be re-inspired…and, in the spirit of Hanukkah, to be re-dedicated to the power our Wexner networks and perspectives afford us.
CJDS is an institution that was born out of the Wexner experience…literally! About 18 years ago, a varied group of Wexner Fellows and Heritage students came together and had a vision for a new model in Jewish education – this vision stemmed from the multi-denominational learning that we experienced throughout our time at Wexner. The multi-denominational curriculum and staff along with the inclusive student body created a safe environment for us to embrace the diversity of our Jewish community in an inspiring and productive way.
Regardless of our backgrounds, beliefs, practices or knowledge base, as participants in a Wexner program, we have been able to come together to study and learn, debate and discuss, reflect and contemplate…and to grow. The diversity inherent in the design of the Wexner programs enriches our perspectives and inspires us.
This is the vision of CJDS…a vision that values the diversity of our community and believes it can be the strength of our future. At CJDS’s core, it role models that there are many ways to be Jewish and many ways to care about Israel – but respect for our differences is a central tenant that will ensure our multi-faceted, colorful, creative beautiful community has a strong future.
Like the Wexner Program, CJDS is committed to bringing all walks of Jewish life together to learn and grow. Regardless of Jewish affiliation, practice, non-affiliation, family composition or financial abilities, CJDS is open to all. By creating a diverse, student, teacher and board population – and by modeling seeing things from many vantage points – we are educating children from the youngest age to value the beauty and the power of diversity. Our students learn to see the differences in our Jewish community as an asset fundamental to their world and not to judge people based on their beliefs or practices. Different perspectives on ritual, politics, Israel, life, God are challenges that our students learn to not only respect – but to embrace. While solidifying their own identity they see that the diversity of our Jewish community enriches life – as a result they are well prepared to value broader diversity in the world around them.
Our motto sums it up succinctly:
We educate our children in the richness of their past, the diversity of their present and the opportunities of their future.
While CJDS’s vision is a direct byproduct of the Wexner experience – so is its leadership model. Through the years of CJDS’s young life – the Wexner network has been instrumental in our success. In the early years, our peers helped make connections for us and our Wexner staff counseled us. They helped us to tease out what a multi-denominational school could look like; and those folks involved with day schools offered guidance and support. In the developing years – the Wexner lens inspired our professional and lay leaders and now – we are a community with a strong Wexner coalition in all aspects of the school. At CJDS, Fellows and Heritage participants work arm and arm. How lucky are each of us to have such varied experiences to draw on.
That is why we invited you here tonight – each of you are leaders in your own right; and as such we wanted you to see firsthand a product of our Wexner experience. You are in the position to help us expand our reach to a broader community. Be our ambassadors, please share our story…keep in touch after tonight. By the way, nothing we can say or show you tonight can do the school justice….if you have not seen CJDS in action, I invite you to come visit the school when it is filled with our students and educators.
CJDS opened its doors 16 years ago to 7 students and 2 teachers, last spring we moved here, to our permanent campus with 220 students and 49 teachers. None of this would have happened without our leader, HOS – Judy Finkelstein Taff. If you have never met Judy, a true force of nature, then I encourage you to introduce yourself to her later tonight. We are also joined by our Educational Leadership Team – and a special thank you to Naomi Shapiro for helping create this wonderful evening.
Elka…we are thrilled you are here tonight. We hope you will take the following message back with you – while tonight you see a room of people whose lives have been impacted by the education and training of a Wexner program, it is equally important to realize that over 300 young Jewish lives have also been impacted and enriched by Wexner – after all. CJDS, a seed from the Wexner programs, has grown into a school and is touching lives well beyond the Wexner participants themselves. We are grateful to the Wexner Foundation and the Wexners for giving us this opportunity.
Get To Know The Author
Wexner Heritage Alum Wendy Newberger (Chicago I-99) is the Director of Jewish and Israel Giving for Crown Family Philanthropies. In prior professional positions, Wendy was the COO of JCFS Chicago (Jewish Child and Family Services) and Director of Early Childhood for JCC Chicago. As a lay leader, Wendy is the Founding President of the Chicago Jewish Day School and has been involved in many boards including the International Board of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, co-chair of UJC’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, member of UJC’s Executive Committee and board member of the Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/JUF. She is also a Past President of JUF’s YLD Board of Directors and a founding leader of TOV, Chicago’s Jewish volunteer network. Wendy is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and earned a Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. She and her husband, Scott, share a passion for continuing education and both are graduates of the Wexner Heritage Program. The Newbergers have four children, Max, Eli, Alana (CJDS ’15), and Shira (CJDS ’17) and live in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago where they attend Anshe Shalom B’nai Israel.