When Rabbi Adam Englander arrived at a recent national gathering in Denver of Jewish day school and yeshiva educators, he had a good sense of what conference sessions he wanted to attend and whom he wanted to meet.
But it turns out that one of the most valuable benefits Englander experienced at the Prizmah educators conference were the serendipitous encounters he had with colleagues and the new opportunities for collaboration and creativity they presented.
As head of school at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, or HALB, in Woodmere, New York, Englander’s main focus usually is what’s happening at his school, not elsewhere. But at the conference he met with two colleagues with whom he shares a leadership coach, they created a WhatsApp group chat for sharing ideas, and Englander soon walked away with a new idea for a dynamic workshop to run with his leadership team this summer.
“Already just from this group I have an amazing idea,” Englander said. “That kind of good stuff can happen where you might meet someone who is like, ‘Oh, yeah. I have the same problem as you.’ Now you are connecting with some principal from San Francisco whom you’d never have met in a million years.”
He added, “Day school leaders really need to take the time and energy to invest in themselves, and their own growth.”
“Creative Spirit” was the theme of the conference in January organized by Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, the national network organization that was created several years ago through a merger of five different day school organizations. The conference in Denver drew more than 1,000 professional and lay leaders from over 200 Jewish day schools and yeshivas across North America. It was the third-ever iteration of Prizmah’s national conference.
With tens of thousands of students spread out over hundreds of schools across the continent, day schools have become laboratories of creativity: for learning, for Jewish action, even for tackling societal challenges.
“Jewish day schools are inherently creative places,” said Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein. “The exceptional level of shared optimism and imagination around the bright future of Jewish day schools was palpable at the conference. Day school leaders clearly share a belief and innovative determination in the opportunity to grow enrollment in the next decade — by promulgating the value proposition of Jewish day school, ensuring a pipeline of excellent educators and addressing the challenge of affordability.”
A salient example of creativity in action is how day schools adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic, not just adjusting to remote learning and figuring out how to return to classrooms safely, but in reconfiguring teaching approaches to suit different kinds of learning.
“Because of schools’ creativity, and because of the way that different stakeholders in schools — from administrators to teachers to parents to students — were able to work together, they solved these brand new problems we hadn’t seen before,” Bernstein observed.
Another area of tremendous creativity is how Jewish schools are managing the challenges of affordability: Day schools are almost entirely privately funded, tuition is a barrier for many families, and yet tuition fees alone are insufficient to cover costs. In recent years, some schools have adapted innovative and flexible fee models, from setting tuition based on a fixed percentage of a family’s income to using Jewish community grant funding to cap tuition for new families.
Much of the conference was devoted to ideas for the future of Jewish day school education, covering everything from curricula to leadership to finances. One main area of focus is recruiting and retaining quality educators and school leaders.
Debra Skolnick-Einhorn, head of school at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C., who spoke on a conference panel about professional development, said she believes the key to better educator retention is improving compensation and benefits, providing more opportunities for professional growth, and expressing more gratitude toward staff.
Tal Ben-Shahar, an American-Israeli bestselling author who teaches about the psychology of leadership, spoke at the conference about the importance of investing in leaders.
“It’s important to focus on self-care for the teachers, invest in people in the field,” Ben-Shahar said. “It’s critical to treat teachers well, keep them involved, treat them as professionals, and value their opinions.”
John D’Auria, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of four books on leadership, spoke about how great leaders focus on mutual learning — getting colleagues to share and learn from one another — rather than top-down leadership. It’s an approach embodied by many day school curricula, which focus on collaborative and experiential learning.
At the conference, Lisa Kay Solomon, Louie Montoya, and Ariel Raz from Stanford University’s d.school K12 Futures team offered an art project dubbed Hall of Descendants where participants could create a portrait and message for future children and educators.
“While we can’t predict the future, we know it’s going to be filled with a lot of uncertainty, complexity and tensions that we can’t solve,” Solomon said. “The hall creates a relatability to that distant time travel and a sense of responsibility about what we might do today to serve that future descendant.”
Brad Phillipson, head of school for the Jewish Community Day School of Greater New Orleans, said he found the Hall “a powerful exercise in prioritizing the values with which I most closely identify, personally and professionally, and in contemplating the world I want to pass along to future generations — through our students, through my child, and, indirectly, through what my students, and my daughter, will teach their children.”
Tal Grinfas-David, who led a session at the conference on creative leadership and Israel, said it’s important for leaders to take risks. More often than not, she noted, leaders can be “risk averse to placate, to take safe pathways.”
Grinfas-David, who is vice president of outreach and pre-collegiate school management initiatives at the Atlanta-based Center for Israel Education, turned to Israeli history for examples of leadership that educators could emulate.
“What I wanted them to see was examples of courageous leadership and risk taking and where that could lead,” Grinfas-David said. “Hopefully, they see that leaders of Israel have had to strengthen the future of the state regardless of the circumstances, just as the school leaders need to leave behind a legacy of a stronger institution.”
Bernstein, Prizmah’s CEO, said that the recent gathering underscored how important collaboration is to Jewish education — and that regardless of location or denomination, colleagues have a lot to learn from each other.
“What we are seeing is that when Jewish day school leaders come together, whether you are Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, pluralistic, or nondenominational, whether you are from the Southwest or the Northeast, from the U.S. or Canada and beyond — there is so much more that unites than divides,” Bernstein said.
Prizmah’s next conference will be held in the winter of 2024.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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