From the CEO: Seeing the Voices of Day School Advocates
In the dramatic scene where the Torah is given at Mt. Sinai, we read that “all the people saw the voices and the blasts of lightning” (Shemot/Exodus 20:15). Much has been written and discussed about this synesthetic moment. What can it mean to “see” voices? Indeed, the paradox has led to less literal translations of the verse itself, with the verb ro’im sometimes rendered as “witnessed” or “perceived.” I prefer to hold on to the literal meaning of “saw,” to illustrate an idea that I feel is pervasive throughout our lives and particularly relevant for the day school field.
Sometimes we see or hear something that has the power of more than the words or images that appear on the surface. Midrash Rabbah tells that the Torah was given simultaneously in 70 languages. The whole of what we see or hear represents far more than its basic elements; in one powerful voice, many perspectives and messages can be revealed.
I believe that this idea is at the core of what Jewish day school advocacy is about, bringing many voices together in support of the central idea that Jewish day schools matter, that the voices of thousands of day school students deserve to be heard, and the needs of hundreds of schools must be met.
While governmental lobbying is often referred to as advocacy, I am using the term here—as it is used throughout this issue—to describe whenever and whatever we to do to command greater attention for day schools. Yes, lobbying does that in one particular sense; our broader definition includes strategies and messages that prioritize day school education among the myriad community investments of a federation, for example, or demonstrate the impact of a day school education for prospective parents.
Jewish day school advocacy, in all its diversity, falls into three main categories: the local way that schools position themselves individually to deliver on their ambitious missions; the regional approach through which the case for Jewish day school education strengthens a community; and on a more global level, the way Prizmah supports and connects the diversity within the broader day school field. Throughout this issue, you will encounter examples at each level.
A few months ago, in the wake of the horror of the Parkland High School shooting rampage, 168 leaders from day schools of all denominations and across North America joined in one voice to express outrage and call for common sense legislation that addresses all factors contributing to a safe and secure educational community. Bringing together all these voices was a role that Prizmah embraced, and we were humbled to be in a position to facilitate the publication and dissemination of that important message.
I often like to return to the basic unit of learning that takes place in every classroom: the relationship between teacher and student. Literally and metaphorically, teachers accept the responsibility of drawing out and making heard the voices of their students. These moments, over and over, are the building blocks of Jewish day school advocacy.
In the coming months, Prizmah will continue to imitate that essential act of advocacy. We will promote programs like our leadership cohorts that prioritize learning for aspiring and current heads of school and lay leaders. We will expand the ways our financial sustainability initiatives strengthen the capacity of schools to raise funds. We will partner on the national level with JFNA and regionally with a number of communities to ensure a stable and strong day school landscape. We will work responsively with individual schools on their particular needs and promulgate new models that others can follow.
When we convene the biennial Prizmah Day School Conference next March in Atlanta, we will be putting our advocacy agenda front and center. By gathering together many voices within the day school field, we will create a powerful experience and a multiplier effect that magnifies the work, inspiration and ideas that each participant brings. We aim for conference participants to begin to “see voices,” to perceive in the conference presentations and in the company of their peers a multitude of possibilities and opportunities for day schools everywhere.
Advocacy is not a solitary act, and we depend on many voices to make one powerful impression about the value of the day school endeavor. I thank all of you who are already contributing your voices, careers, resources and passions to Jewish day school education. If Prizmah is truly the “voice of optimism,” as posited by Gary Rosenblatt last year in the pages of the Jewish Week, it is due to the hard work of so many who understand, embrace and share all that is wonderful about the potential of Jewish day schools.