After celebrating Passover, often considered the birth of the Jewish people, we plunge headfirst into the most recent additions to the Jewish calendar, the commemorative days of Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut. These holidays are marked by day schools in diverse ways, often in collaboration with or alongside a school’s local community. After completing my first nine months at Prizmah, I continue to observe just how critical communal relationships are for day school success, both on the individual school level and more broadly as we advocate for day schools in the larger communal agenda.
Part of Prizmah’s role as a field leader is to capture and refract points of light, to act as a kind of clearinghouse of great practices and then to tell the broader story through the prism of a field-wide lens. Some recent examples of ways day schools relate to their local communities inspire me and feed the field with exactly the kind of promise and optimism we need.
When I first moved to New York from London, I heard that the Salute to Israel Parade was a virtual showcase of day schools and Jewish organizations, complete with marching bands and floats. Seeing students of all ages from schools of all denominations marching down Fifth Avenue in celebration of Israel truly puts day schools in the spotlight. Across North America, especially around Yom Haatzmaut, day schools host or participate in ways that dramatically display an emotional tie to the State of Israel and the unique way day schools cultivate a love of Israel. If you have ever teared up at a “daglanut” flag-waving performance, you know what I mean.
The Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, Ohio, is known for its Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut ceremony and celebrations. New Head of School Seth Linfeld is looking forward to this year’s events. “Inside and outside our classrooms we celebrate our connections to Israel and the Torah Land, so the actual celebrations are bigger here,” he said in a recent news article. “Part of why this means a lot to us is that the celebration is by the community as a whole.” The school’s community gathers together and invites three other Jewish day schools—the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, Gross Schechter Day School, and the Lillian and Betty Ratner School—as well as the broader Cleveland community in a series of festive events.
In this way, the school not only extends the celebration of its love for Israel, it also opens its doors and shares the day school experience more broadly. Anyone who walks into the event is bound to notice the energy of the school and may be in a position to recommend the school to a prospective family or donor. From a marketing perspective, it establishes the school as a resource of great value to the community.
When schools across a community partner together, it is often to save costs or to leverage scarce resources. There also can be an ideological reason for collaboration that takes relationship-building to a deeper level. Two New York suburban day schools, Solomon Schechter of Westchester and Carmel Academy, recently spent Shabbat together in the home synagogue of many of their students. In a marketplace where parents have their choice of excellent Jewish day schools, a sense of competition is inevitable. Yet these schools decided to build on what they have in common and to partner with the synagogue to create a “community within a community” that both fostered stronger relationships among families with shared values and demonstrated to the broader synagogue the value of day school education.
By collaborating in ways that preserve individual identity and that result in “win-win” outcomes, schools create a community among themselves and are likely to draw positive attention more broadly.
Innovation and Design
Sometimes it is through collaboration across the community that schools attain even higher impact than is possible within the walls of their institutions. Day schools from Rhode Island to the San Francisco Bay Area are enlisting local experts to explore how 21st century innovation and design theory can help schools and organizations develop and fulfill their vision. The Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, in partnership with Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, has developed TikkunXDesign, an innovative curriculum that integrates design pedagogies with the tradition of Tikkun Olam. As you can read below in our Resources section, day school educators are invited to join The Brandeis School in San Francisco for the Ethical Creativity Institute, a series of workshops on design thinking and Jewish ethics in collaboration with IDEO/Teacher’s Guild, the d.school at Stanford, and Bay Area synagogues and educational organizations. These are two examples of schools reaching beyond their campuses to access communal resources and establish innovative partnerships of value to the entire community in ever expanding ways.
These stories are in no way the only examples of day schools leveraging their role within their communities. In fact, we welcome you to share your own school’s exceptional practices via email to firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in future Prizmah Newsletter issues.
However your school commemorates the special days of this week, I wish you continued opportunities to experience the hope and joy that our schools foster, and I challenge you to broaden the ways the rest of your community connects to that very same hope and joy.
Originally published in the April 28 Prizmah Newsletter.