By Josef Blumenfeld
Attended by more than 1,000 people from across the Jewish community, the Prizmah Jewish Day School Conference in Chicago this week was fresh, exciting, and full of innovative approaches to Jewish education that were embraced by energetic attendees. The three-day conference lived up to expectations as an “interactive learning experience” with well-known speakers, dozens of panels and small group interactions, coaching sessions, and an “innovation playground” that showcased the Jewish community’s most advanced education technology and approaches.
Conference attendees represented both Jewish day school educators and professionals, as well as lay leaders, which had an entire constellation of programing dedicated to enhancing their leadership. The theme was “The Power of Story,” and messaging was artfully incorporated in most sessions. From the welcome by Prizmah board chair Kathy E. Manning to the closing session, everything was designed to advance the visibility, effectiveness, and impact of Jewish day school education.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this conference is that we bring together leaders from across the denominational spectrum to focus on our shared values and goals,” said board chair Manning. Indeed, the full richness of the Jewish community was on display at the Prizmah Conference, which offered traditional to contemporary prayer sessions, opportunities for participants to learn from one another regardless of denomination, and a steady stream of kosher food the quality of which seemed to surprise even the most jaded conference-goer.
Prizmah (the organization’s full name is Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools) was founded last year with a mission to transform the North American Jewish day school landscape. The Conference was billed as a fresh approach, and neither programming nor branding disappointed.
“Jewish day school leaders are coming together to learn from each other and address our community’s needs in unison,” explained Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein, in a prepared statement. Bernstein went on to explain that the 3 days of speakers, networking, training, and activities would benefit all participants, which, in turn would “bring new strength back to their home communities.“
Noted futurist Jane McGonigal explained in an all-attendee plenary that game design theory could help unlock the promise of education in a host of ways, including helping teach students about that all-important but often-illusive quality of empathy. This TED-quality presentation by a best-selling author was one of the conference highlights, a sentiment echoed by many in attendance.
Prizmah bills itself as a powerful resource, thought leader, and advocate for the Jewish day school field that offers rich programming, vital services, professional and lay leader training, as well as research, data analysis, and relevant publications. Its overarching goal is to help schools achieve educational excellence, financial vitality, and to amplify the profile of day schools within the Jewish communal agenda and beyond. The Conference agenda was true to those goals.
Arguably one of the Jewish community’s newest organizations, Prizmah’s leadership recognized the need to evolve, grow, and change with the times, and ensured that its first Conference – it’s introduction to North America’s Jewish community – blazed new ground. With on-site school visits, Chicago’s world-famous Second City as facilitator and entertainment, and expert speakers that delivered content that was as provocative as it was relevant, this new organization put on a conference that establishes Prizmah as a leader and model for the Jewish community.
Prizmah’s inaugural conference clearly exceeded the expectations of many attendees, and provided a professional networking and learning opportunity that sets a new bar in Jewish – and, perhaps all – education.
Josef Blumenfeld is Founder of EdTech180.