Highland Park, IL — Chabad representatives each bring their own personality and energy to the communities they live in. Here’s a look at one woman who affects change and inspires a community with her presence and passion.
“It’s quite a feat for one woman to be able to change an entire family’s lineage, but Rebbitzen Michla Schanowitz is capable of just that.”
After high school senior Rachel Reichblum dropped this one line stunner, 450 banquet guests at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy Scholarship Dinner stirred in their chairs for a look at the Chabad of Highland Park, IL, representative who garnered such praise.
Michla Schanowitz is not a teacher at the modern Orthodox high school, a Chicago area fixture for 65 years, but she was selected to receive the Torah V’Chesed (or Torah and Kindness) honor last month because of her role as an advocate for the school. More than 40 children from Highland Park have swapped public school for a Jewish education because of Mrs. Schanowitz’s influence.
“Had [Mrs. Schanowitz] not begun to learn with my mother, teaching her the spiritual values and the structured laws of Judaism, becoming an integral part of my family’s life, I would have never observed the Sabbath, kept Kosher, learned Torah, and above all, would have never attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy,” Reichblum said.
Highland Park Mayor Michael Belsky honored Mrs. Schanowitz with a Mayoral Proclamation at the dinner. Rabbi Yosef and Michla Schanowitz, Chabad leaders since 1980 are the “kind of people whose acts of kindness can spread Judaism every day,” the Mayor said.
Mrs. Schanowitz used her time at the podium to emphasize the urgency of supporting Jewish education. Not accustomed to speaking before such a large crowd, she nonetheless succeeded in creating what banquet guests called a “magical aura” in the room. Everyone seemed moved by her eloquence and passion for Jewish education. Several weeks after the dinner, a senior educator at Ida Crown told Rabbi Schanowitz that his wife’s brief talk was “unbelievable, the speech of the evening, and a shining moment for Chicago’s Lubavitch movement.”
According to community members, Mrs. Schanowitz’s successful outreach to parents is attributable to her scholarship, unflagging energy and excellence as an educator. She is the principal of Chabad of Highland Park’s Hebrew School with 60 students, teaches the bar and bat mitzvah class, and coordinates bar and bat mitzvah tutoring. Several days and nights a week, Mrs. Schanowitz teaches Jewish Learning Institute courses and adult education classes in private homes. Joelle Dimbert, a co-chair of the banquet, tries not to miss a class.
“Michla is very prepared, and she speaks very well and knowledgeably on every topic. She is very direct and doesn’t back away from a challenge,” Dimbert said, adding that she is “very warm, generous and patient.”
On top of her teaching duties, Mrs. Schanowitz runs the North Suburban Community Mikvah, established by Chabad and the only mikvah in Highland Park.
Dinner co-chair and community member Marleen Lipschultz marvels: after all the work, Mrs. Schanowitz “thinks nothing of having fifteen people sleeping at her house on Shabbat. She is small in stature but mighty in deeds.”
Even more people know and love Mrs. Schanowitz for her home-cooked Shabbat morning feasts served at the Chabad House. Hand rolled sushi, crunchy salads, “whatever the hip new food is, she adapts,” said Dimbert. Dimbert’s daughter, Sarah, 12, cannot resist chiming in: “She’s a Super-Rebbetzin.”
Born in Sioux City, IA, Mrs. Schanowitz moved with her family to the Chicago area when she was a young girl. She briefly attended Ida Crown, her first experience in a Jewish day school, before moving the St. Paul, MN, where she was exposed to Chabad-Lubavitch by Rabbi Manis Friedman, founder of Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies. Her background gives her a special sensitivity to the needs of her community members.
“She relates to everyone on a personal basis. Her advice is very case specific,” said Reichblum. Based on Mrs. Schanowitz’s recommendation, Reichblum will be attending a post-high school women’s seminary in Israel next year.
“I know she was, and still is, always looking out for me.”