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I write this on the heels of the inaugural Prizmah Conference, where more than one thousand of our colleagues joined together to learn, share, and experience the next chapter of the North American Jewish day school community’s story.

Writing in The Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, a veteran of numerous Jewish communal experiences, reflected on how, “since 2008… Jewish day school conferences have been a place for lay and professional leaders of the movement to kvetch about hard times. And for good reason.”  Yet, at the Prizmah conference, he detected “a new sense of optimism” in our gathering.

Rosenblatt was right. I heard from so many conference attendees the same thing. The energy, the optimism, and the excitement were palpable. So, what was it about the Prizmah conference that created that feeling? And more importantly, how can we at Prizmah be sure to keep building on the momentum?

First and foremost, it was the active participation of everyone who came together to begin to write our shared story. For those of you who were unable to join us, you were sorely missed, and to be honest, you missed something extraordinary!

During this gathering, we started shaping the kind of vibrant future we seek, where day schools play an even bigger role in nurturing a thriving, passionate, engaged, and committed Jewish community. Together, we lived and shared our passions and beliefs in what an excellent education means to the next generation of Jewish leaders.

It is clear that our success lies in our collective ability to create valuable connections – between schools, among both professional and lay leaders. Those connections enable people to learn with and from each other. The Prizmah conference created the most important opportunity in our inaugural year to foster connectivity and provide excellent content to learn from. And let’s not forget the opportunity to connect over a memorable Super Bowl!

We are committed to continuing our work in building and strengthening those connections – whether they are through ongoing opportunities to convene in person and online, through our Reshet groups, or through cohort-based programs.

Second, we took some real risks. And, with The Second City Works, we asked you to join us in doing so!

The Talmud relates that when the great sage Rabbah lectured in Talmudic law, he would always begin with a joke.  After making his students laugh, he would continue with an in-depth analysis of Halachah (Jewish law). While public speakers tend to use this technique in order to gain attention and focus, Rabbah most certainly did not need to; his students were dedicated scholars ready to learn from him with full concentration. Why then would Rabbah need his disciples to laugh at the beginning of each lecture? “Simchah (joy and happiness) breaks through walls.” When we are upbeat, positive, and in a happy mood, we become more flexible and confident, willing to test fresh ideas, challenge old habits, engage in new and improved behaviors, and grow beyond our comfort level.

For Rabbah, dedicated students were not enough. He wanted them to be creative and grow in their learning by thinking beyond their natural ability. He wanted them to ask challenging questions and think of alternative ways to approach the material. Laughing at the beginning of class opened their minds to think more broadly. We wanted to create for you the same opportunity – to think differently and new, to open up to and try new things. The Second City Works showed us how the creativity and collaboration of a “Yes, And” mindset can enhance our chance of success.

We could have shaped the conference experience in conventional ways. However, the opportunity for everyone to try improv, to network deeply, and engage in new learning modalities in places like the Playground were intended to help us all think differently and leave with the kind of optimism that will drive each of us forward in our schools.

At Prizmah, we are committed to trying new things, taking calculated risks, and bringing to our work a stance that fosters creativity and new approaches to our work with you.

According to Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Koach ha’sippur – with the Power of Story – we can explore, dream, and discover in our community.

We don’t have all the answers to every issue facing day schools in North America. But we do know that there are many creative and successful solutions in one or more schools that can be shared. And we know that by working together, we can focus on what really matters to children, parents, lay leaders, educators, and administrators to strive for success. We all believe passionately in the value and importance of a day school education for the Jewish future, so we at Prizmah invite you to continue the energy and mood from Chicago that will surely help us learn and find ways to harness educational success.