I listened to my two-year-old daughter recite the Four Questions at our seder this year.
Allow me to shep a little nachas: She is two.
I would open up every vein in my body to give every Jewish parent the pure, unadulterated joy I felt that night. Never have I felt more proud, or more close to G-d. And never have I felt more convinced that every Jewish child should have that knowledge—and the opportunity to share it with their families.
I’m preaching to the choir. You wouldn’t be reading this unless you felt a strong connection to Judaism and the Jewish people. So maybe you get as excited as I do when I learn about how innovative thinkers are attempting to “solve” day school affordability. My most recent research into blended learning provoked just that response. My blood raced, my mind whirled, my soul burned: Is this it? Is this the answer? I felt that urgency when I learned about Kehillah Funds and middle-income strategies, too.
Each effort has yielded important lessons for schools and communities. But the most important lesson is this: We cannot stop trying.
We cannot stop looking at affordability from every angle. Revenue, expenses, marketing, recruitment, governance… The more we see these as tools to make day school more attractive and accessible to families, the more they will yield opportunities to make Jewish education a fundamental part of every child’s life.
We cannot stop innovating. Are you scared to attempt systemic change? (Don’t be ashamed if you are—change is scary, and you are dealing with children, and parents. A little caution is not unexpected.) Pilot a program in a single classroom, or with a group of parents, or with one event. Set your goals. Evaluate the effort. And grow from there. But do not stop innovating.
We cannot stop sharing our successes and our failures. You ran a program that raised thousands from new donors? Great! Tweet all about it! You tried an affordability program, and it turns out only three families took advantage? Great effort! Share the lessons you’ve learned with the field. PEJE builds Communities of Practice to make this all easier. Maybe your colleague in Memphis or San Francisco or Los Angeles has some wisdom to consider the next time you try a similar program. Don’t be afraid to promote your wins, and learn from your setbacks. We learn more from our failures than we do from our success.
No one hits 1.000. No one makes money on every deal. But as a wise man once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And there are too many two-year-old Jewish boys and girls who are not learning the Four Questions. Who will not have the opportunity to go to day school, or overnight camp, or to Israel. And perhaps even worse, there are too many mothers and fathers who don’t understand why that is a shandeh (or who don’t know what a shandeh is). We cannot stop trying. So let’s do it together.