Elissa is Prizmah's Chief Operating Officer. Learn more about her here.

Walking the Walk: Prizmah's DEI Work

Traditionally, we are taught that all generations of Jewish people were present at Mt. Sinai when the Torah was given, both those alive at the time and the ones to come for centuries and centuries. In this interpretation, Sinai was the ultimate moment of inclusivity.

Approaching the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, it seems particularly fitting to reflect on the idea of inclusivity in general, and more specifically, the ways that Prizmah has begun to express our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within our own operations.

Prizmah’s DEI work stems from two mindsets:

First, as an organization that was designed to serve the diversity of Jewish day schools and yeshivas, Prizmah sees the idea of inclusivity as foundational to who we are. One of our core values is Kavod/Respect. We respect and embrace our differences, knowing that there is strength in our diversity and that the field of Jewish day schools benefits from a wide range of expressions.

Second, Prizmah’s duty as a field leader is to “practice what we preach.” Once we started responding to and working with schools to improve their practices in the area of DEI, we knew that it was really important for Prizmah to undertake this work internally as well.

In May 2021, we invited anyone on Prizmah’s staff to volunteer to join an internal working group. Six members of our staff—from across program areas and with diverse years of professional experience at Prizmah and elsewhere—stepped up to help lead the effort.

Each of us, the two authors, comes to the topic of DEI from professional experience as well as numerous trainings that we have attended. Both of us share a social work background, which predisposes us to think deeply about issues of societal and individual concern. All of the members of our working group have invested time in learning by participating in courses and discussion to enrich our understanding of the complex issues at play in this work.

Over the first year, the DEI committee focused on what they felt was critically important to do and where they felt progress could be readily made. This included the following:

  1. Updating all job postings and broadening the outlets we use to share our job postings to convey our deep commitment to ensuring that everyone is encouraged to apply for our professional openings. We made sure that new job postings include new language to reflect this value. 
  2. Creating and disseminating an organizational approach of DEI at Prizmah, with goals and definitions of key terms such as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  3. Reviewing our marketing materials to ensure that we are representing the diversity of the field and the community through our pictures and messages.
  4. Taking active steps to ensure our programming is as accessible as possible, for example adding closed captioning to our online programming.
  5. Ensuring that we have diverse voices on all our panels and webinars and on all panels where Prizmah staff appear. This takes special priority as we plan ahead for the field-wide Prizmah Conference in 2023.

More broadly, we have made sure that ideas related to DEI pervade our staff culture and the professional development and trainings that take place at Prizmah. The DEI committee has engaged the entire Prizmah team in the conversation as we have shared the work we are doing. We have invited input to help guide our process, and we will continue to engage the team both by soliciting feedback as well as investing in training for our staff. We want to ensure that we are continuing to learn about the work we need to do to create a welcoming culture that respects diversity.

Our experience at Prizmah, not surprisingly, has confirmed that conversations around DEI raise emotional responses. Some of our conversations have been difficult. We have found, though, that even for people for whom the topic is challenging or “outside their comfort zone,” the level of respect and the tenor of care and collegiality has been truly inspiring. We see a difference in the way colleagues treat each other, and even our newer co-workers contribute to creating an atmosphere that allows for all voices to be heard.

We know that this process is iterative and ongoing. Just as we have invited all members of the Prizmah team to be part of our work, we also invite and welcome input and suggestions from the broader day school field. Partnering with those who are engaged in similar work will deepen the reach of our own internal efforts as well as inform Prizmah’s service to the field.