Paul is Prizmah’s founding Chief Executive Officer

A Tu Bishvat Message From Our CEO

Tu Bishvat, amidst the kabbalistic traditions, delightful children’s songs, and dried fruit, has an important halachic role. To properly observe the biblically ordained laws of orlah (avoiding eating the fruit of a tree younger than three years old), we need to keep track of the age of trees. Enter the rabbinically decreed New Year for the trees, a date dedicated to tracking and marking time.

As we celebrate this day, we marvel at and rejoice in the growth and transformation of trees, which move from seeds and saplings to bearing fruit ever so quickly. Trees themselves mark the passage the time, each ring a sign of another year past. On Tu Bishvat itself, we track and celebrate growth.

A few weeks ago, my family in England had an unexpected brush with celebrity. My mother, a German refugee who survived the Holocaust as a hidden child in Nazi-occupied France, was photographed with my niece by the Duchess of Cambridge. Their photograph will be part of an upcoming exhibit of portraits commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Duchess published the moving portrait of my mother, together with photos of the two of them meeting at Kensington Palace, on her Instagram feed. After their initial meeting, my mother and Kate were again pictured together when the Duke and Duchess were guests of honor at the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration event in London. Their voices and presence create headlines every day, and successfully shone a brighter light on the importance of this anniversary. Kate described my mother, together with a second survivor she photographed, as “two of the most life-affirming people that I have had the privilege to meet.” She described the purpose of the portraits as ensuring that “[their] memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation.”

I keep thinking about the portrait she took and what it represents. The staging and lighting of the photograph were designed very specifically by the Duchess to capture this unique moment. A survivor of World War II with her 11-year old granddaughter, light streaming in from the hopeful east, wartime artifacts (my mother’s German identity card, marked with a “J” for Jude-Jew) shared across the generations. The photograph is very much a moment in time, a moment that marks time, bridging the past with the future. The image captures the gaze of a young girl learning through the shared experience of her grandmother, committed to re-telling that story in order to learn its lessons.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks articulated a crucial lesson he learned from Holocaust survivors, when he said: “To mend the past, first you have to secure the future.”  The photograph of my mother does this, aesthetically and generationally. Our shared work in Jewish day schools also does this every day, child by child, family by family, community by community. By securing our Jewish future through vibrant and sustainable schools, in some ways we heal the tragedies of our collective past.

So this Tu Bishvat, while I still chuckle at the thought of my mother rubbing shoulders with royalty, I appreciate how the day’s focus on trees and marking time can catalyze a deeper appreciation for the relationship between past and future. And I give thanks, both for the trees which beautify our world, and the hundreds of Jewish day schools in which tens of thousands of Jewish futures are growing to fruition.

 

 

 

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Paul is Prizmah’s founding Chief Executive Officer

The Power of Network

As early as my second week at Prizmah, I saw first-hand the power of our Network of Jewish day schools. While getting to know a school leader, I was asked a question that reached to the core of the character of their school, and honestly was beyond my scope of knowledge. “I’ll get back to you on that,” I replied, thinking that our Prizmah team of experienced day school professionals would pull out just the right answer. But, when I shared the question with my Prizmah colleagues, instead of a “textbook” solution, their response was a list of five other schools who had recently grappled with the identical question. These peers provided that leader with better answers (gained through experience) than a single “expert” might offer. That is an example of the Network at work, and the knowledge of the field in action. There is no textbook, but there are plenty of solutions.

Being part of a Network means contributing and accessing the everyday “real-world” expertise that builds stronger schools, and a supportive, vibrant field.

In the past year, day school professionals and lay leaders have connected, shared, learned, created, and driven impact through the Prizmah Network at an astounding rate.  1100 field leaders, from over 230 schools, joined us at the March, 2019 Prizmah Conference and collectively Dared to Dream; 163 schools participated in a Prizmah Reshet group (which had 200 new members this year); 1305 resources were launched in our new digital Knowledge Center and have been accessed by thousands of page views.

Online, at in-person gatherings, through emerging partnerships with federations and national leaders in education, Prizmah’s focus on Network points us in a strong direction to support individual schools and the day school field.

We just celebrated Shavuot, acknowledging the enormous gift—matan—of Torah. When we call the holiday “z’man matan Torateinu” or “time of the giving of our Torah,” we are actually celebrating a collective experience, as Torah is referred to in the plural possessive. Rashi teaches that both the Written Law and the Oral Law were transmitted to Moshe at Sinai. While the Written Law—Torah she’bichtav--speaks in one Divine voice, the Oral Law--Torah she’be-al peh, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, Midrashim--contains multiple voices across generations. There is an inherent intricate network of diverse voices and opinions offering insight, advice, and instruction.

The Oral Law provides a model for understanding our world and addressing the challenges we inevitably encounter. When we gain access to the experience of others, when we draw on past examples to inform present action, when we debate—even loudly—about our differences, we strengthen our ability to deliver on our mission. The Prizmah Network is predicated on just such a philosophy.

For our Network to fulfill its potential demands that we create space for the myriad voices to be raised, that we construct pathways for connection among practitioners, and that we encourage portals and access to other providers of expertise.

“Do what we do best and connect to the rest” was a kind of informal mantra we used in talking about Prizmah right from launch. Convening the Network means sometimes being in the center and sometimes stepping aside so that people can connect directly.  Oftentimes it means connecting to experts, providers or resources throughout the Network. Primarily, being the Network convener means making it easy to both access and provide knowledge for each other.

In the coming months, we will be concentrating our efforts on strengthening the Prizmah Network with the voices of even more day school leaders and practitioners. School leaders will be receiving information shortly about renewing or establishing their Network affiliation, while others in the field can engage by sharing resources, asking questions, and supporting the day school field. Together, we can ensure that the day school field has a living network that supports and creates tangible impact for individuals, schools, and communities, all working toward a vibrant Jewish future.

Affordability
Elliott Rabin
Powering A Data-Informed Field to Utilize Research
Odelia Epstein

Rabbi Buechler is Prizmah's Director of Communal Engagement. Learn more about her here.

How Building a Retention Strategy Yields Greater Enrollment

Word-of-mouth referral is the most effective means of promotion. If a friend posts or tells you about a product, you are more likely to purchase that item. The case is no different with yeshiva and Jewish day school referrals. 

In addition to creating strong school-family partnerships and strong academics, a range of communication practices can greatly improve parent satisfaction with the school experience. These strategies will also help to increase family retention and sustain a culture of belonging in schools.

Calendar Best Practices

  • Ensure that all dates of any programs are on the main school calendar at the start of the school year (and not in close proximity to other age - or grade - targeted programming/sibling crossover programs). 
  • Create add-to-calendar links for each event so staff and parents (and grandparents) can add them directly to their personal calendars.

Timing of Events 

  • Schedule the start of events earlier in the day to best meet the needs of most working families (typically right after drop-off).
  • Always include end times to events. For example: The Siddur Play will take place on __ from __ to __, followed by an enough which will conclude at __. 
  • Start events on time and end on time. 

Event Accommodations 

  • Ask what kinds of accommodations may be needed for guests, including but not limited to closed captioning, front parking spots, sign-language interpreters and reserved seating. 

Livestream Events 

  • Livestream all of the big school events. This way, parents who travel for work or grandparents who live far away can feel a part of the events. 
  • Assign a member of your tech team (or an outside vendor) to administer and test the livestream.
  • Livestream has a “watch again” feature, so families can click on the same link after the event to rewatch if they are busy at the time of the event. 

Emails Prior to Events 

  • Send out an email reminder with details and all of the livestream and add-to-calendar information two to three weeks in advance of the program, as well as a similar and briefer email within 48 hours of the event. 

Inclusion

  • If there have been songs or skits that might not be themes that are fully inclusive, it might be time to retire those. For example, a Hebrew song referencing moms and dads may not feel comfortable for a single parent. 
  • For those with sight or hearing limitations, envision how they access or participate in the programming. 

Volunteer Opportunities 

  • If you have a program that requires volunteers, ask the grade/class parent/PTA representative to create a signup genius that is shared with parents at least two weeks prior to the program and communicated widely, as volunteer spots are often at a premium. 
  • Designate a staff or parent volunteer to help greet and direct any volunteers to reduce volunteer frustration. 
  • Send individual thank-you emails to volunteers, and potentially include a photo of them with their child, if they are volunteering in their child’s grade. 

Thank-you Email

  • Pre-draft a brief thank you email from teachers to families.
  • Teachers can include the link to the “watch again” portion of the livestream as well as a link to photos, if applicable.
  • Ideally, the email will come directly from teachers to their classes, so families can have an email exchange with them. 

These communication tips are only the beginning -- and certainly require much work. These small details, however, can have a huge impact and enable parents to feel more appreciative of their experience with your school. The ways we communicate to our current families have both short and long term impacts on retention as well as on future enrollment. 

From the Board Chair: A Collaborative Approach to Affordability
David Friedman