Walk in to just about any Jewish day school or yeshiva, and you are bound to smile. Whether it is the colorful artwork on the wall, the enthusiastic voices singing in Hebrew, the sparkle in the eyes of teachers greeting their students, or even in the smell of lunch preparations, our schools present a multisensory experience of joy. If we seek to fulfill the call of Psalms to “worship God with joy,” our schools are a truly wonderful entry point.
Given this core connection between schools and joy, when more than a thousand educators and leaders of the day school field gather at the Prizmah Conference in Denver next month, we are excited to welcome Tal Ben-Shahar, renowned psychologist and “happiness guru,” as our featured presenter. In his talk, entitled “Wellbeing in Schools: Applying the Science of Happiness,” Ben-Shahar will help participants understand the science of happiness and how we can apply evidence-based tools to build higher levels of wellbeing and resilience among teachers and students, resulting in lower levels of anxiety and depression, improved relationships and better academic performance.
With a growth in enrollment since pre-Covid, reversing past trends, more families opting for and staying in Jewish schools, and appreciation of the quality and value of day schools across North America, now is indeed a happy time for many schools. There is also much to learn and anticipate as we look ahead. At the conference, we will engage in sessions and workshops with experts and experienced practitioners on the diverse factors contributing—and challenging—day school growth and stability.
Our ability to continue progress in enrollment, affordability, appreciation of and support for day schools, as well as excellence—in all our schools—hinges both on our joy and on our ability to harness the creative spirit in each school leader, educator and student. We will enlist the Stanford d.school’s K12 futures team at the conference to explore futures thinking methodologies for Jewish schools. We cannot just prepare students for the future; we must help them develop the imagination, agency and will to shape the future.
All of this will take place within a vibrant community of professional and lay leaders, all of whom believe that the joy and creativity represented by and cultivated within Jewish schools are perhaps our most promising indicators for a strong and healthy Jewish future. For those joining us in Denver, I look forward to celebrating and learning with you. And to all, as we approach Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights, I share personal greetings for joy and hope, even at these darkest days of the year.