The Positive Power of Relationships

The passing of summer puts me in a bit of a philosophical mood.  These past few weeks have been just a little quieter than usual and there has been more time not only for planning but for reflection. Over the Summer Prizmah has created gatherings for day school professionals to engage more deeply--at events, Learning Hubs, and through Reshet conversations--where individuals develop important relationships. As a team, Prizmah staff retreated from the day-to-day grind to hone our plans for the coming year. The time away from routine is refreshing.  As I look out observing the vibrant greenery in my neighborhood, and I think of the leaves that will change color as we return to our hectic routines in the Fall, I recall Martin Buber’s famous metaphor of the tree he considers in I and Thou, a book that has been studied by generations of general and Jewish philosophy students. 

I consider a tree.

I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air—and the obscure growth itself.

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life…

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness. (translation by Walter Kaufmann)

Prizmah’s approach to the day school field resonates with Buber’s consideration of the tree. Through our strategic planning process, we deeply observed the field and we identified the key levers that you told us are pivotal for a vibrant and sustainable day school future. We noted the elements that contribute to strong schools and that nurture effective leaders. In the past year, we convened en masse at the Prizmah Conference in Atlanta, and in countless 1:1 and small group interactions. Through this whole process, we became increasingly and inextricably bound up in relation.

Prizmah’s connection to the day school field is powered by dynamic relationships with, and more importantly among, administrators, teachers, lay leaders, and schools. When a board member calls our office for governance advice; when a new admission professional finds a mentor at a Prizmah gathering; when a Reshet member shares an innovation with her network…these are all moments when our shared relationship is strengthened.

At this time of year on the Jewish calendar we are anticipating the fast day of Tisha B’Av, when we commemorate the many tragedies that have struck our people--most notably, the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The famous story of the enmity between Kamza and Bar Kamza is traditionally read as the trigger for the destruction of the Second Temple. The story depicts what we call “sinat hinam,” baseless hatred. At its core, the story is one of utter relationship failure--a disconnection from basic human social contract. The power of relationships to build or, heaven forbid, to destroy, is palpable.

Prizmah puts the positive power of relationships at our core. As a network organization, we are driven by the needs and concerns of those who join us (and, if your school has not yet joined or rejoined, please take this opportunity to do so). Our priorities are the priorities of the Jewish day school field. Our goal is to see and understand the needs of the leaders, schools, and communities we serve, and to stand in relation with you. We are constantly learning from and with you and sharing what we observe. The snapshots of day school life, the talent that pulses through the field, the resources that keep schools viable and thriving, the innovation that propels our students toward a vibrant Jewish future: this is all possible due to the deep, interconnected relationship Prizmah fosters with and among the numerous, vibrant networks that exist within the overall Prizmah Network.

This issue of Kaleidoscope preludes the 2019-2020 year. You are reading about the various targeted programs, conferences, services, and resources we are providing. To borrow Buber’s metaphor and take it a bit further--yes, we stand in relation to the day school field much as he imagined being bound up in relation to a tree. All that we do is meant to deepen that connection, to feed and water the tree, and to make possible those fleeting moments where the “power of exclusiveness” elevates our network to fulfill its loftiest potential for the Jewish future.