Dare to: breathe, enjoy, learn, and explore

By Jordan Silvestri
Dean of Students at the Ramaz Lower School

Over the past few days, I have been exposed to some of the most provoking ideas, questions, problems, and innovations—things that have pushed me in unique and unexpected ways. I came into the Prizmah conference with very little expectation and full of joy, excitement, and curiosity. What took place there was nothing short of transformational – similar in nature to how this entire academic year has unfolded for me.

In late March 2018, my journey to Ramaz began with a seemingly innocent conversation to explore a potential position in the school. One thing led to another, and I found myself moving from social services into the world of Jewish education. I had no real idea of what I was getting myself into when I explored the idea of moving into Jewish day school leadership, and certainly no concept of what I was getting into once I stepped inside. I found myself in an unfamiliar space, working hard to flesh out what my job was, what my goals were, and how I would support my own educational vision while maintaining that of the school’s.

Over the last few months, I have felt uncertain--to the point where I could not see straight, let alone think clearly, critically and innovatively. I needed a charge, a defibulating shock, that could knock me into sinus rhythm, allowing me to fully realize who I wanted to be, what I wanted to represent, and how I wanted to accomplish these goals. Knowing the “WHY” that fuels my internal gears and keeping my engine well-maintained and properly oiled is fundamental to the kind of leader that I want to become. I am most balanced when I provide myself the time and attention to connect the elements that drive me with the accomplishments of those most impacted by them. However, when time speeds up and the ability to reflect and process these moments disappears, my creative and questioning self begins to atrophy. My role in Jewish educational leadership was slowly losing clarity and becoming less transparent and more opaque. Then came the Prizmah Conference.

Within moments of arriving, I experienced a noted change – something clicked – and suddenly the muscles of my mind began to stretch, expand, and re-energize. I began to physically remember, in my body and my soul, all the reasons that drove me to choose Jewish education. What was it about this conference that woke me up from an 8-month hibernation? It was more than the chance to be surrounded by 1,100 other energetic and ground altering educators. It was more than the plethora of engaging, thought-provoking, and mind-blowing sessions held throughout the conference. It was more than the opportunity to connect to old friends and forge new relationships. While my high was euphoric from the very first session that I attended, it was not until I walked into my house that the magnitude of these few days hit.

I finally arrived home after a rather trying and ever changing commute, and my two daughters ran downstairs to say hello. As my 5-year-old wrapped her precious little arms around my waist she exclaimed, “Wow Daddy! Look how much you have grown!” Immediately, in that moment, all the questions, emotions, thoughts and idea swirling around my mind over the past few days came rushing into one stream of clear and concise consciousness. I had grown and was not the same person who left just a few days earlier. Something had transformed within me and was ready to be released into the wild to explore the vast terrain of Jewish education.

How had I grown? My youngest daughter wasn’t referring to the delectable food I devoured, but, rather, to the reality that I had become so keenly aware of: that the role I had accepted earlier this past summer was a calling that had been beating from within me for years. This is the same rumbling to which 1,100 of my closest colleagues had been drawn. I was not alone in struggling with educational, social, emotional, and logistic needs that had plagued me at night. I was part of team--a unit and a family of magnificent individuals whose expertise and experience I can tap into as we grow and claw our way through difficult decisions.

My daughter was spot on. I had grown. I had come back with the collective drive, pool of knowledge, and will to persevere of 1,100 Jewish leaders making a difference in the lives of our Jewish future every moment. This is not added fat that I am looking to shave off in the gym. I look forward to expanding off of these connections and collaborations, nurturing these relationships, and forging means through which we can solve some of the most pressing problems of our times.

Jordan Silvestri, Dean of Students at the Ramaz Lower School, has been working with young students across various spectrums for over 15 years. Jordan is an avid student and leadership junkie. He lives with his wife and 2 daughters in Bergenfield,NJ.