In the Issue: Organizational Memory

Elliott Rabin, editor

“Most of the time, when I remember, it is others who spur me on; their memory comes to the aid of mine and mine relies on theirs.” Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory


We tend to think of memory as something intensely personal and individual. After all, our memories form the mental furniture that bedecks our minds. Our oldest memories—of our parents, grandparents, siblings and friends, playgrounds and parks, toys and pets—lie at our emotional core. Subsequent experiences layer on memories charged with lessons, constructing understanding, shaping our behavior and attachments. Our memory makes us and not someone else.

Yet if we focus on memories as separators, we miss the essentially social nature of memory. Halbwachs, a mid-20th century French sociologist, coined the term and established the study of “collective memory.” In his view, memories are created and preserved—memorialized—by groups: families, social classes, religions, etc. As in a Venn diagram, a person’s memory consists of the overlapping of the various social contexts that person inhabited over the course of a lifetime.

Schools are certainly one of the most powerful generators of collective memory. Just think of all the memories that we share with our schoolmates from the past, shaped by our schools. First day of kindergarten. Graduations. Plays. Class trips. Sports teams. Favorite teachers. Major projects or papers. The list is endless, and the superfluity, the enormous abundance of recollections and associations stemming from our schools, are, apart from the explicit curriculum itself, a vital means that schools employ for influencing children’s lives long into the future. Jewish schools layer countless Jewish experiences upon the school’s memory weave, and Jewish traditions root those memories in the fertile soil of our ancient history.

Articles in this issue consider schools’ organizational memory from multiple perspectives, sifting the celebratory and challenging, the pliant and the obdurate. The first section presents leaders who have molded organizational memory toward their strategic or policy goals. Katz shows how the upheavals of Covid gave permission to alter beloved programs in ways that amplified their power and educational value. Grebenau and Sufrin offer a strategic roadmap for new heads to consider a school’s history and culture as they seek to make signature changes. Maayan advises of the value of institutional forgetting, warning that school history should not become an imprimatur for inaction. Binder finds inspiration in the Torah for the role of forgetting in our education and school leadership. Winshall and Goldfein draw upon their own and others’ experiences as school founders to offer an arc of founders’ impact on the school.

The second section looks at ways that stakeholders can work with and derive benefit from aspects of a school’s organizational memory. Milgrom describes how boards can incorporate the history of the school, the board and its policies into its training processes. Gordon guides student activities coordinators in ways they can update programs that are much beloved but no longer so successful. Wolf discusses the vision of her school’s founders and its continuing guidance for their admissions practices. Silver portrays the use of art to bridge Judaism’s long memory with school and student memories, and Grinfas-David lays out the principles behind an Israel education that creates powerful, lasting school memories. Schopf and Skolnick-Einhorn write about a school-history project that engaged students in the transformative pedagogy of “uncoverage.”

In this issue’s school spread, “Celebrating Memory in Our Schools,” schools present programs that showcase their history and create new memories. The final section features ways that schools preserve memory. The first two articles focus on archives. Krasner, at work on a history of Jewish day schools, advocates for their importance (and laments their frequent absence); Bernardo-Ceriz delivers suggestions for compiling one at your school. The next pieces present backward glances at a school that closed, from two former students and two staffers. Our last items come from a large school in Australia: Rutland delves into the school’s history and its influence on the school today, and Ezzes describes a major school contest that grew out of, and empowers students to reflect upon, that history.

We at Prizmah wish you a year full of positive new memories that grow organically from the memories that your school has cultivated before, whether your school has been around for one year or a hundred.

Return to the issue home page:
HaYidion Fall 2021 Organizational Memory
Organizational Memory
Fall 2021