Catholics host new Jewish day school


Kindergarten uses top floor of Alphonsus Academy

Photo courtesy of Chicago Jewish Day School  The kindergarteners touch the mezuzah-a Jewish symbol of God's presence.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but sometimes no fences lead to even better ones. In a unique turn of good neighborliness, the 2-month-old Chicago Jewish Day School has found a home at Chicago's Alphonsus Academy, a Catholic elementary school celebrating 100 years of education.

The seven kindergartners who attend Chicago Jewish Day School meet in classrooms on the third floor of Alphonsus Academy, situated just west of the soaring steeples of St. Alphonsus church, 1439 W. Wellington, Chicago.

Teachers, parents and staff at the Jewish school say they hope the shared space will provide an opportunity to promote respect and cooperation.

"What's interesting in the bigger sense is that we can foster understanding of people beyond those who share our faith," says Heidi Baruch, whose daughter, Maya, is part of the inaugural Chicago Jewish Day School class. "It's a fabulous opportunity to learn from each other and take joy in each other's practices."

"We rent out our extra space to other groups and this was a nice way to bring children back to our school on the third floor," says Barbara Rieckhoff, principal of Alphonsus Academy. "Both schools are educating children and we're both faith-based, so we share a lot of similar goals."

The new school has been on the drawing board for more than five years, spearheaded by a group of Chicago parents seeking a parochial education that embraces a wide range of Jewish practices. The school is not affiliated with Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox or Conservative Judaism, but does offer daily prayer and an integrated Hebrew and English curriculum. It expects to meet enrollment goals of 10 to 20 kindergartners and at least 10 first graders next fall, and offer kindergarten, first and second grade instruction by its third year.

"Our school is diverse within the Jewish spectrum and now, because of our location, our kids are getting a sense of the broader diversity of the world," says Wendy Newberger, board president of the new school. "To have a start-up school that is housed in a school also means we can see and hear other children in the building, we have access to the school's playground, computer lab, library and gymnasium. All these things that you never dream you'll have when you're a new school."

Monica Ginsburg

Kids Eat Chicago

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