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Youth & Family Learning

Our Philosophy

Congregation Etz Chaim prioritizes the  experiences and development of our next generation. We are committed to fostering an abiding commitment to, and love for, Judaism in our students. Our curriculum seeks to give children a positive feeling about their heritage as well as the foundation for understanding the three main precepts of Judaism: God, Torah, and Israel. We do this so well that the Community Foundation for Jewish Education has recognized our curriculum as one of the finest in the Chicago area.

We prepare our children to take Torah into their own arms and to hold it close to their hearts by developing and strengthening their identity as Jews and adding to this foundation of Jewish identity the structure of Jewish knowledge.

Under the direction of our Director of Lifelong Learning, Marla Aviva Bentley, the teachers and staff are mostly congregational volunteers. You can learn more about the curriculum for each grade in the Religious School Handbook, but in essence, our students develop a mastery of Jewish tradition, history, Hebrew language, Bible, and Jewish thought. 

We strongly believe curriculum and teachers can only do part of the job so we also make family learning a priority in the Religious School. Each year a variety of programs involves the parents so the seeds we plant at school can be developed and nurtured at home. When children see their parents are actively involved, they understand that Jewish education is important, lifelong, and does not end with B'nai Mitzvah or Confirmation.

Jewish youths who know they are Jewish and what that means to them are prepared to take the Torah and hold it close. For them, the Torah can truly be Etz Chaim—a Tree of Life. 

Religious School

Our school offers youth education from Pre-K through 10th grade. The Community Foundation for Jewish Education has recognized our curriculum as one of the finest in the Chicago area. As you can tell, we take education very seriously. Our Judaica faculty volunteers each week to teach our students and our Hebrew faculty provides 3rd through 7th-grade students with excellent preparation for participating in and leading congregational worship.  

Our dedicated faculty is made up of long-time congregants as well as parents of students.  

Our Religious School meets at Etz Chaim on Sunday mornings and is geared toward pre-kindergarten up through 10th grade. We have a mid-week Hebrew program for students in 3rd-7th grade on Wednesday afternoons as well as a remote Hebrew option. 

At our Religious School we do the following: 

Teach Judaism, T'filah (prayer), and Hebrew 

Create an environment for family involvement and participation 

Foster Jewish family living 

Provide creative and innovative programs 

Build Jewish self-esteem 

Express warmth, respect, and concern toward all members of our school community 

Help the children feel at home in the synagogue and make it a key part of their lives 

Impart a positive connection to the land of Israel and its people 

Develop within our students an abiding commitment to and love for Judaism

Religious School

Consecration: A ceremony in which we formally welcome our youngest students and those new to our congregation into our learning community. 

B'nai Mitzvah: B’nai Mitzvah is an important milestone in a family and young person’s life, usually at 13 years of age. It is in the public ritual that a child expresses how his or her learning and experiences have shaped the young Jew who they are becoming.

Confirmation: Our 10th graders learn in their last formal year of education at Congregation Etz Chaim and celebrate with the community upon the completion of this journey.


Our community is made better by the participation of all. We practice fully accepting our students because we believe all are created B’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image). We provide a place to belong, both in the classroom, and our congregational community. For our school children, we have Madrichim (teaching assistants) who support students with distinct learning abilities and a resource room for pull-out sessions for children whose learning needs can be addressed individually.

That said, you know best how your child learns. Let us know, and we’ll accommodate their learning style.


Youth Groups


One weekend every spring we travel to the Olin-Sang-Ruby-Union Institute (OSRUI) located in Oconomowoc, WI for a retreat. We offer multiple programs for all ages. For instance, some programs are discussion groups, others are hands-on, and some take place outside. 

The retreat is for adults and children alike. School-age children sleep in a camp cabin under the supervision of college-age counselors. Adults have rooms in another building and most have a private bathroom. Younger children stay with their parents.

And don’t worry, we build in plenty of time for connection and bonding with our programs and over meals.

No child is too young, and no adult is too old. All are welcome to learn, pray, eat, relax, sing, and just enjoy Shabbat for an entire weekend!

Learn more about and register for the 2023 Congregational Retreat here

Jeremy Bruder Memorial Library

Do you love to read? You’re in luck – the Congregation Etz Chaim Jeremy Bruder Memorial Library is open and available for your use. You can borrow items from our extensive collection of fiction and nonfiction books for all ages. Plus, we have media, games, and other items available to borrow.

All materials are purchased through donations to the Robert N. Glass Memorial Library Fund. We are not accepting physical donations at this time.

The library is named after Jeremy Bruder, who was tragically killed in June 1996 by a classmate. You’ll see pictures of Jeremy lining the walls of the library with his beaming smile and expressive eyes. In keeping with Jeremy’s zest for life, and his quest for knowledge, it is only fitting and proper that the library is memorialized in his name. Come visit!

Partner Agencies that we recommend

Summer Camp, Israel, Study Abroad through the URJ

Not only is OSRUI home to our annual retreat, Etz Chaim is proud to send kids, staff and faculty to participate at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, WI. 

The camp offers several sessions to meet the needs and interests of campers from rising 3rd grade through high school. These sessions can be anywhere from five days to seven weeks. During that time, campers stay in cabins or tents all while learning about Jewish life. 

Plus, nothing beats Shabbat Shirah (song session) and Rikud (Israeli dancing)! Lifelong friendships develop, and each child’s connection to Judaism is strengthened at OSRUI.  

Etz Chaim is proud to regularly send the largest contingent of campers to OSRUI from a mid-size congregation, and one of the largest contingents from a congregation of any size! 

Contact Rabbi Consnowsky, Rabbi Wainer, or Marla Aviva Bentley to learn more, and for scholarship information.


JUF Young Families

JUF Young Families Programs offer many exciting opportunities for families with young children to explore and cultivate Jewish life. From welcoming a newborn, to providing free Jewish books and music, to gift vouchers that help supplement Jewish early education, JUF Young Families Programs help families experience and celebrate the joys of Jewish life, community and learning. If you're a parent, grandparent or have young children in your life -- JUF Young Families is the place for you.

PJ Library

PJ Library is a FREE program that sends high-quality, age appropriate Jewish books and music to families each month - with absolutely no strings attached. The PJ Library program in Chicago is available to families with children 6 months - 8 years living in the metropolitan Chicago areas: Cook, Lake, Will, McHenry, DuPage and Kane counties. Learn more and sign up now.


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