As we approach the Prizmah Conference in early February, we are anticipating the learning, connections, and insights that will emerge from our three days together in Chicago.
The buildup to the conference comes as we read the early parshaot in the Book of Shemot. This section of the Torah ties in beautifully with the conference theme, The Power of Story. After all, through story, we build our lives and the strength of the lives of children in our schools and Shemot is rich with important storytelling.
Shemot begins with a vivid, event-oriented narrative that continues the history of generations of the Jewish people started in Bereishit. Later, it changes direction and is dominated by the style we could almost liken to an instruction manual, laying out in detail the mitzvot that guide the young nation of Bnei Yisrael. How quickly we move from the drama of the plagues (in this week’s parsha, Va’eyra), through the Exodus (Bo/Beshalach) and giving of the Ten Commandments (Yitro). Next, almost without a pause, we enter into the detailed blueprint for building the mishkan by parshat Mishpatim, which starts (Shemot 21:1) Ve’Eleh HaMisphatim… (“These are the rules…”).
Is one style of story (the dramatic telling of events) more relevant or powerful than the other (the blueprint for Jewish life)? One is more accessible and vivid, but certainly not more important. As the Maggid of Jerusalem, says: “The most precious part of a story is its lesson!” Our lives and our stories are made up of the combination of these components, which all contain vital lessons and together form the foundation for Jewish life down the ages.
As we begin to live through Prizmah’s story, it too comprises events, moments of drama and joy, and important, detailed work to map out opportunities for day school success. Over the first six months of Prizmah, we have created a unified organization out of the complexity of the coming together of five separate organizations. I am honored to work with a talented group of professionals, dedicated to serve the day school field, and Prizmah’s experienced, deeply committed Board. We have prioritized listening and learning about the needs of day schools, through active engagement with and visits to well over 100 schools in cities across North America. Dozens of lay and professional leaders have participated in Prizmah programs and taken advantage of a growing range of services we offer. We are building the conversation across the day school field, with the HaYidion journal and numerous other opportunities.
In Parashat Yitro (Shemot 19:2), the Torah describes the Israelites encamping near Mt. Sinai with the following phrase: VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar (“Then the Jews encamped near the mountain”). The word “VaYichan” is singular (he encamped), not plural, although it is referring to all of the Israelites. Rashi draws on the Midrash in explaining this grammatical inconsistency. This teaches, he writes, that the Israelis were united, “K’ish Echad, BeLev Echad,” like one person, with one heart.
That was, of course, an overwhelmingly powerful and formative moment in Jewish history. Twelve diverse tribes gathered together as one, united, during an extraordinary, challenging journey to Eretz Yisrael.
The creation of Prizmah represents a new, unified platform for us to work together in building a stronger movement of Jewish day schools. That has potential to be more powerful and impactful than any one school can achieve alone, or that we were able to reach in the separation of the legacy organizations that founded Prizmah. Achieving powerful impact will not happen by itself; it will develop through the work we undertake together, to share ideas and learning with our peers and colleagues, to build the unified whole.
I invite our school professional and lay leaders to make Prizmah your own. Take the leap, if you’ve not already done so, to join us in Chicago and to be part of writing the next chapter in the story of our day schools. Together, we will shape a vibrant Jewish future, with day schools at its heart.