By Elissa Maier
Today is your day.
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
I can’t help but think about this quote as I begin my journey with Prizmah. My Jewish day school journey began with my children when we enrolled them in the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. Our goal—to provide our children with an outstanding academic education while nurturing their love and commitment to Jewish values.
Truthfully, I am not sure that my husband and I recognized that the journey we were providing our children would actually be a journey for our whole family. Together with our children, we became a part of this Schechter community that continues to be our foundation—even after our kids have long-since graduated. As a community, we have learned together, celebrated together, and supported each other through difficult times. My children traveled to Israel for their first time on a Schechter Family Mission my husband and I chaired. And through Schechter, I was able to hone my own leadership skills by serving as the President of the Board of Trustees.
So what began as an investment in our children became an investment for our family.
And still—the impact on the young women my daughters have grown to be, that is the true pride of our Schechter journey. Not only did our children learn Jewish values—but they live their Jewish values.
This week, my older daughter will receive her master’s degree in literacy education, having already completed her undergraduate degree in early childhood general and special education. While earning her degree, she has spent many hours working in the Schechter classrooms where she began as a student and now works as a teacher. Her love for education was nurtured by the inspiring role models who taught her and who now mentor her as a new teacher.
Recently, I had an emotional conversation with my younger daughter as she spent the evening of Yom Hazikaron with her peers fighting against a BDS referendum that was brought before the student senate at George Washington University, where she attends school. The bill was narrowly defeated by just one vote—and in this moment, she realized that the secure Jewish life she had always experienced growing up does not extend into her new expanded universe on the college campus. Through this negative experience, however, I listened with pride as she told me about this fight and I realized that our goal of ensuring that our children are grounded in a life defined by Jewish values had been achieved. My daughter understands the need to be an involved, active member of the Jewish community and to speak out against injustice.
So when I was given the opportunity to be a part of building Prizmah, an organization with the mission of educating the next generation of Jewish leaders by supporting Jewish day schools, it was clear to me that this is how my journey must continue. I am excited to have the opportunity to work with schools to help them achieve their goals of enhancing educational excellence, attracting more students, building financial models that ensure viability, and developing strong boards that can partner with them in their work. Most importantly, I am looking forward to bringing my experience in developing leaders through strong professional development programs to the day school system. Ultimately, the success of any organization is dependent upon having outstanding professional leadership. One of my greatest sources of pride is a program I built in the Federation system to invest in talented professionals to help them learn and grow and to advance their professional leadership. Watching the graduates of this program become even stronger leaders and achieve success, I recognize that this is a critically important investment. I welcome the opportunity to share what I have learned in my many years of work in the Federation system and hope to use this knowledge to help day schools achieve the success that is needed to create the next generation of passionate, committed, and caring Jewish leaders. I look forward to working with the Prizmah team and the whole Jewish day school field, and to learning with and supporting day schools across the country.
This article was originally posted on the Prizmah Blog