Rabbi Grossman's Reflections

An Illuminated Prism of Jewish Learning: From Blended Language and to Expanded Thought

"The most difficult Hebrew words are the English ones," a student complained to me recently while struggling to read through an essay in the holy tongue. What she was referring to are words of English origin that have been adopted into modern Hebrew, but are cumbersome and hard to decode when they appear outside their native dialect. Linguists call these "loan words," terms that are imported into a new language with little or no modification. We have many of these in English, for example, prima donna, from the Italian "first lady" [of the opera]; doppelgänger, German for "double-looker"; and café, French for "coffee."

Some English loan words are closer to home at Ramaz, like amen, Hebrew for "affirm" and kindergarten, the German for "children's garden." It appears that the struggling student is correct: because they do not fit the normal pattern of the language into which they are imported, foreign loan words present difficulty to readers and speakers! Language aficionados (Spanish for "admirers"), however, love loan words, which enrich a language by absorbing outside influences.

The loanwords that Hebrew has borrowed form English include inclusiviut (inclusivity), motevatzia (motivation), and kaitering (catering). Last week, however, the most popular Hebrew loanword in America was prizmah (prism). Though more obscure than most (sandvich, for example, is a daily staple), prizmah owes its recent fame to the fact that it is the name of the new network of Jewish day schools in North America. Last week, I attended the first Prizmah conference, where over a thousand Jewish educators gathered together in Chicago.

Until recently, there were five separate umbrella organizations serving the Jewish day school world: PARDES, the Reform day school network; PEJE, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, which provided resources for sustainability and affordability in Jewish schools; RAVSAK, the Community day school network; Schechter, the network of Conservative schools; and YUSP, the Yeshiva University School Partnership that serviced Orthodox yeshivot. Last year, through the support of the Avi Chai foundation, these five organizations merged to become Prizmah. This new organization encourages exchange of ideas and cross-fertilization across ideological lines, and provides a pooling of resources so that Jewish day schools of all denominations can benefit from the collective wisdom of the group. Like loan words themselves, Prizmah allows foreign ideas to be easily imported into new contexts, making for a richer language of thought and practice. It is so exciting for Ramaz to participate in this new web of experts and practitioners; it is one of the ways that we ensure that Ramaz is up to date with the best practices and latest innovations in Jewish education.

I attended several outstanding sessions that will have a direct impact on educational innovation at Ramaz over the next year. A seminar on the spiritual and religious development of children and teens provided data from the first-ever study of the scientific link between spirituality/religion and physical/mental health in youth. The peer-reviewed information was staggering in demonstrating how raising children in a spiritual/religious community gives them a dramatic boost in becoming happier and healthier teens and adults. This study will be most helpful in redesigning our Middle and Upper School advisory programs, and in assessing how we do tefillah in all of our divisions.

I also attended a session on the creative redesign of classroom space that explored how schools can renovate and refurnish classrooms to address diverse learning styles in students, increase engagement and excitement, and incorporate technology organically into an educational setting. This is an area of educational innovation that I have been exploring for many years, and the information I gained from Prizmah gave me new options and ways of thinking of space that will help as we move forward, especially with our technology plan.

Prizmah is a portal for people in all areas of Jewish education, and I was delighted to have the company of two colleagues, Rabbi JoeSchwarz, MS Talmud head, and Mr. Raphael Blumenthal, US College Guidance head, who participated in the conference as part of their own professional growth and development.

The name Prizmah was chosen to represent the vision of this new organization. Here is how they explain the meaning of their name:

Proverbs 6:23 teaches us that the "Torah is light." When light is put through a prism, it splits into many dimensions and colors, and yet, it still remains one light. We couldn't think of a better representation of our organization, which reflects and refracts the multifaceted needs of all Jewish day schools, but is still unified by the light of Torah and Prizmah's singular goal of strong, excellent, and thriving Jewish day schools.

We are excited to be part of this new prism that will illuminate Jewish education for years to come.

Posted by webmaster on Monday February 13 at 10:36AM
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