Paul is Prizmah’s founding Chief Executive Officer. Learn more about Paul here.

Seizing the Momentum

This time between the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot is one of the busiest weeks in the Jewish calendar, and in addition to the work, errands, and meal-planning we squeeze into a “short” week, we crunch our spiritual muscles as we move from existential fear to unbridled joy.

As we make this transition, I am captivated by the image of an old-fashioned scale. In the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, we call out, “Uteshuvah, utefillah, utzedakah can undo the evil decree,” praying that Hashem sees that our good deeds on one side—repentance, prayer, charity—outweigh the accumulation of our missteps, that the scale tilts toward good in the year ahead. And then, the balance shifts, and we are rewarded with Sukkot, z'man simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing.

At Prizmah, I find myself in a similar position, looking back to the year we have left and anticipating ahead to what is to come. Specifically, where has our scale tipped and how can we hope to maintain or accelerate the positive momentum that so many schools have experienced in recent years?

There is great reason for optimism: enrollment across the field is up, the perceived value of day schools is increasing, and we have seen a significant rise in investments in our schools. Prizmah’s determination to make an impact on thriving day schools and yeshivas has been strengthened by the thousands of school professionals, lay leaders, and devoted

funders who continue to believe in the unique capacity of day schools to ensure a vibrant Jewish future. This is simply an extraordinary time for Jewish day schools.

Looking back over the last year, we can point to quantitative indicators of positive momentum:

  • Enrollment is UP. Continuing the positive trends in enrollment we have seen since 2020, two-thirds of Prizmah’s member schools maintained or increased enrollment for 2022-23. Read our Enrollment Pulse Survey Report for more details.
  • New families stayed, and more are coming. Seventy-two percent of students who enrolled due to the pandemic re-enrolled for the 2022-23 academic year. These families fell in love with day schools, finding them to be institutions of excellence and centers of community where the values-driven education—content, culture, and context–engages the whole child and nurtures lifelong relationships and love of Judaism. Additionally, we are seeing more transfer students—in the 136 schools participating in Prizmah’s survey, last year nearly 1,000 new students enrolled from public schools and 343 from other private schools.
  • Significant Investments are growing. Headlines in Jewish and general press were filled with news of exceptional gifts to Jewish day schools this past year. Multimillion dollar contributions were designated for educational excellence, creative tuition models enhancing affordability, and endowments. These “big bets” emerged from an overall rise in the awareness that day schools make an impact over generations, exemplified in Prizmah’s #JDSalumniproud video campaign.

Our schools have collectively seized this moment, and Prizmah has helped by doubling down on the critical needs which remain core to our strategy: supporting and deepening leadership and talent, activating funding sources, and advancing educational excellence and innovation. These remain top strategic priorities of the Prizmah Network, powered by learning through sharing.

As we see the scale tip with our accomplishments from last year, we look ahead to some of the opportunities and challenges facing us.

  • Our leadership and educator pipeline demands cultivation. At a time when exceptional leadership is one of our most precious commodities, we must increase the tenure of heads of school and create attractive pathways to headships. Prizmah programs like DSLTI (Day School Leadership Training Institute), Orthodox Women's Leadership Cohort, and YOU Lead, as well as the invaluable contributions of coaches and mentors, continue to give veteran and new heads skills and encouragement to persevere in what some would call the toughest job in the Jewish world.
  • Finances matter more than ever. Affordability will remain a challenge, and schools and communities are practicing ever more creative approaches to meet the needs of all families in fair and effective ways. With broader recognition of the value of Jewish day schools, now is an opportune time to expand efforts in deploying creative affordability models and in raising endowment funds.
  • Excellence drives growth. Whether in facilities management or curriculum development, nothing at a school can flourish without ongoing care and tending. Day in and day out, the trust parents place in their schools must be rewarded with impeccable service and the delivery of a first-class education. Post-Covid realities such as increased mental health and social-emotional challenges will continue to push our schools to strengthen the way they support all students, academically, spiritually, and socially.

This liminal time of year, when we emerge from awe and ramp up joy, sets the stage for a promising school year. Just as our days begin to grow shorter, we start a new balancing act. In our vision for the year to come, may we accrue the confidence and success to find ourselves once again in a position to reflect back on achievements just as we look ahead to new challenges.

As a means of reflection, we are pleased to provide you with Prizmah’s annual Year in Review report, featuring highlights from the 2022-23 academic year, including trends in enrollment, advancement, school finance and leadership, along with future-focused insights.

Z’man Simchatainu | זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ
With best wishes for a truly joyful year ahead.