Jewish Life is the heart and soul of Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and infuses all aspects of the school’s culture.
Rochelle Zell Jewish High School provides students with the knowledge, skills, and leadership opportunities they need to participate fully in Jewish life as observant, passionately committed Jews. The school year at Rochelle Zell revolves around the Jewish calendar, and students learn to approach life with a love and reverence for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Kashrut is observed throughout the school and at all school events. So that students may observe Jewish law and life fully, athletic programs and extra-curricular activities never conflict with Shabbat or Jewish holidays.
The rich Jewish studies curriculum includes intensive studies of Talmud, Bible, Jewish thought, and Jewish history. Daily tefillah provides students with an opportunity to serve as shlichei tzibur (prayer leaders), to have aliyot to the Torah, and to offer fellow students divrei Torah (brief discourses on the weekly Torah reading). On Friday mornings, rabbis and Jewish educators from the broader community attend tefillah and enhance prayer by sharing their knowledge and insights with students and faculty.
Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)
Rochelle Zell Jewish High School is committed to preserving God’s world and making it a more just and peaceful place. The Va’ad Tikkun Olam’s student leaders plan and coordinate a variety of social justice and tzedakah projects, as well as chesed (acts of kindness) programs. Students serve food at a Jewish shelter, donate items and money to organizations all over the world, visit the elderly, teach about the genocide in Darfur, organize recycling projects and book drives, and more. To help them understand and experience the connection between our Jewish values and political and civic commitment, students also engage in leadership activities throughout the city, state, and nation.
The connection to the State of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people permeates the school environment. Rochelle Zell seeks to instill in students a passionate, life-long commitment to and a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the land and its people. Students leave Rochelle Zell with a solid understanding of the history and culture of Israel as well as an ability to clearly articulate the facts of Israel’s existence. The Va’ad Israel plays a key role in raising awareness of and support for Israel among Rochelle Zell students, faculty, families, and the broader Jewish community. Rochelle Zell Jewish High School has also developed a three-week Senior Israel Experience designed to create a living context for our seniors’ studies. During their time in Israel, students focus on four themes: religion and the state of Israel, democracy and the state of Israel, Tikkun Olam, and making connections with the Israeli people.
Four days a week, in accordance with Jewish tradition, Rochelle Zell begins the school day with tefillah for students and Jewish faculty. Students are encouraged to think of this time as a gift; a peaceful and reflective way to begin the school day. The minyan (communal prayer) is designed to engage students religiously, aesthetically, and intellectually. The Va’ad Tefillah is responsible for coordinating tefillah , which is led by students. Members of Va’ad Tefillah meet on a regular basis to organize, assess, and improve the tefillah program.
Every morning service includes a brief period of time to engage in the study of Torah. Torah study takes several forms. On Mondays and Thursdays, students participate in the ritual of reading Torah. On Tuesdays, the Multiple Minyan Program offers a variety of services designed to appeal to students’ varied aesthetic preferences. Options include a musical minyan, a meditative minyan, a learners’ minyan, a discussion minyan, and more. Each service aligns with the school’s egalitarian religious philosophy and commitment to halachah. On Wednesdays, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors engage in a discussion about a topic related to tefillah. At the same time, seniors participate in a special minyan of their own where they reflect upon religious issues in a more intimate and focused setting. On Fridays, faculty, students, or guests present their own analysis of the weekly Torah reading.
Depending on the time of year, mincha (the afternoon prayer service) is recited either during the school day or immediately after school has been dismissed. The school encourages staff and students to attend this service.
Rochelle Zell Jewish High School holds several Shabbatonim during the school year, giving students the opportunity to spend significant time together outside of the school setting while celebrating shabbat. Students remember the spirited singing, dancing, and davening at Shabbatonim for weeks afterward, and the informal setting helps to build bonds among students and between students and faculty. Some Shabbatonim are hosted by local conservative congregations, while others are held at retreat centers. The programming begins on Friday afternoon after school and concludes with a social activity on Saturday night.
The Rochelle Zell Jewish High School calendar is built around the rhythm of Jewish life. Throughout the course of the year, students and faculty observe religious celebrations as a community. On Purim, for example, students read the Megillah and enjoy a festive meal, then spend the afternoon visiting sites throughout metropolitan Chicago to fulfill the holiday’s tradition of giving gifts to the needy. In order to facilitate our students’ observance of the holidays, our faculty is committed to limiting homework demands during certain seasons of the year. Holiday programs and celebrations are developed and run by a Rav Beit Sefer (school rabbi) and a committee of students and faculty.
"Clearly, there are the lessons that are in our textbooks, like algebra, chemistry and Spanish. But at RZJHS, we also learned essential midot, or values, such as diligence and morality, that you can’t find in a textbook."