Not long after starting my work as a Prizmah intern in the fall, I helped design and facilitate a program called Leveling Up for educators and administrators to study the lessons of the adaptations and changes made in response to the Covid-19 crisis and learn to leverage those innovations for a strong start to next fall. In doing this work, I learned the Torah of Prizmah.
Just as the sea of Jewish tradition is too big for any one mind and is best learned in chavruta—in partnership and community—so too the organization looks to its staff and its array of expertise to meet the varied needs Jewish days schools have today. The Leveling Up team brought together people with an array of skillsets: seasoned day school educators, experienced designers and master facilitators. Together, we developed a program that was richer, more meaningful and I hope more useful to the participants than any one of us could have come up with on our own.
From the adage Shiv‘im panim baTorah, There are 70 faces in the Torah, we learn that the tradition holds an almost infinite number of perspectives. This lesson was on display in the design process for Leveling Up, and I see it almost everywhere when I show up to work each week. The Torah of Prizmah operates on the same principle: In order to help day schools excel and thrive, deepen talent, catalyze resources and accelerate educational innovation, Prizmah focuses on the whole day school, not just specific parts. I love that Prizmah is an organization dedicated to making other organizations, day schools, the best they can be.
Additionally, I have learned how to work with data in developing reports to map the North American Jewish day school landscape in terms of enrollment diversity and affordability. By nature, I am a dreamer and a big-picture thinker. My time at the Seminary has indulged my dreaming plenty, but by interning here, I have gained skills doing the hard research that’s needed in order to give weight or structure to those big conceptual ideas.
Alongside my research on race, I have gained expertise in day school affordability and alternative tuition models in a way that very few people in the field have. I came into this organization in many ways as a day school skeptic and am not a product of day schools myself. This research has given me a richer vocabulary to talk to both Jewish communal professionals and lay community members about the importance of Jewish day schools, what their investment in a Jewish day school education can mean and what the return on their investment might look like. As so many other parts of the Jewish world are thinking about affordability and access, it was a great honor to do even a small part in helping Jewish day school education be affordable and accessible to more people.
Researching Jewish day school affordability was, in many ways, a mapping of the Jewish middle class—a section of the population for whom it is not always a given that Jewish education in a day school is feasible, worth their while or a good value relative to public education. I come away from this research especially, and my time at Prizmah generally, with a sense that the best Jewish day schools in the 21st century are, more than anything, institutions that focus on educational excellence across the board, where Judaism and Jewish culture are pieces of the holistic education for each student.
As a budding Jewish communal leader, I feel it is crucial to have as broad and as rich an understanding of the Jewish communal landscape as possible. I now feel much more equipped as a rabbi to help guide parents through that decision-making process, not just as a giver of pastoral care and spiritual guidance but also as someone who has a good understanding of the Jewish day school field.
By studying the Torah of Prizmah, I have been exposed to the full range of activities in Jewish day schools, from the classroom to the faculty lounge, the administrators’ roundtable to the boardroom. Thanks to my time at Prizmah, my training both as a Jewish educator and as a rabbi feels complete.
Soon-to-be Rabbi Jonathan Posner is finishing up his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. As part of his coursework, he has served as an intern with Prizmah for the past year. Following semikhah, Jonathan will begin a new role as a community rabbi working with Base Chicago.