Hanukah Message from our CEO

Catalysis (/kəˈtæləsɪs/) is the process of increasing the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance known as a catalyst[1] (/ˈkætəlɪst/), which is not consumed in the catalyzed reaction and can continue to act repeatedly. 

I am neither the baker nor chef in my family, though this time of year I make a contribution, taking charge of making potato latkes. It is with a combination of determination, awe, and hunger that I pull out the food processor and get to the messy work that yields dozens of hot and shiny latkes. Simple ingredients—potatoes, eggs, onion—which the bath of oil almost magically turns into perfectly formed, artery-clogging deliciousness. Hanukah is a time for miracles, to be sure.

Sometimes I wonder if there are actually secret ingredients for the perfect latke.  Most recipes do not offer any significant tricks, other than perhaps adding bread crumbs, matzo meal, or potato starch. There are many opinions about the type of potato used, the way it is shredded or pulverized (by hand or food processor), the temperature and type of oil.  

While the oil is not a true catalyst, in that some (lots?) of it is certainly consumed into the latke itself, the fact is that each batch of latkes inevitably leaves behind a good amount of oil in the frying pan. The chemical reaction between the hot oil and the potato mixture results in scrumptious latkes—and leaves behind ample oil in the pan for the next batch.

The day school field—and Prizmah—is fortunate to count numerous catalysts that trigger transformative experiences.  In the past twenty-five years, however, no force has been greater in sustaining the field of day school education than The AVI CHAI Foundation. As the calendar year comes to a close, we acknowledge with immense gratitude the $338 million investment in our schools and field from AVI CHAI, including signature programs like interest-free building loans, curriculum development (iTalAM, Bisvhil HaIvrit), leadership programs (DSLTI, YOU Lead) research, and matching funds for day school vitality, to name just a few. AVI CHAI has been a catalyst for nearly every Jewish day school in North America.

Yossi Prager, the longtime and final Executive Director of AVI CHAI North America, and a member of the Prizmah Board of Directors, shared his reflections at our recent board meeting. AVI CHAI has, during the course of the last year, articulated substantial learning from its many years of philanthropy (eJewishPhilanthropy has helpfully collected much of this). At our board meeting, Yossi shared how AVI CHAI evolved over the years from a focus on programs, to the question of how you build a field, investing in people, institutions, ideas, and resources.  

Knowing that the journey is not finished with AVI CHAI’s sunset, Yossi called to us to continue the work, in areas like affordability, leadership, and in addressing the many challenges ahead for Jewish day schools. We recognize what remains from AVI CHAI’s catalyzing process—the people who participated in programs AVI CHAI funded, the lessons from their activity and research, and the environment in which continued growth and sustainability can flourish. Thanks to current and former board chairs, Mem Bernstein and Arthur Fried, the entire board, Yossi and staff team of AVI CHAI, there are new generations of catalysts—funders and communities who are similarly devoted to keeping day schools vital and vibrant. Prizmah recently showcased A New Frontier in Alternative Tuition Programs, just one example where we see the legacy of AVI CHAI’s trailblazing.

This year on Hanukah, while munching on “just one more” latke, I invite you to join me in giving thanks to AVI CHAI and to looking ahead to many more catalysts around us, the nisim/miracles of the past and the present that will ensure Jewish day schools continue to fulfill their role in securing our vibrant Jewish future.

Hag Urim Sameah!