Conference inspires local Jewish educators

April 2019
Alice Mendelson

Imagine a place where 1,100 people who are passionate about the future of Jewish education gather to share insights, ideas and resources.  Thanks to the generous support of Hamilton Jewish Federation, Prizmah and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA),  members of the Hamilton Jewish community were able to experience this first hand.  

Representatives from the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, Kehila Heschel School and the Hamilton Jewish Federation recently travelled together to take part in the Prizmah conference for Jewish Education in Atlanta. The conference hosted close to 300 school participants and offered more than 210 sessions and excursions.

The Hamilton Jewish Federation recognizes the vital importance of our community's Jewish schools in helping to foster Jewish identity and in developing our leaders of tomorrow. To that end, Federation created an education committee in 2017. One of the committee’s first mandates was to meet with all of the schools and after school programs and hear from them how Federation could be of further support. Aside from the need for continued funding, school leaders discussed their need for professional development opportunities that were tailored to their needs. 

In response to this need, our committee arranged for our day schools to secure a membership in the Prizmah Education Network for the 2018-2019 year. Prizmah is a centre for Jewish Day Schools in North America, and is  responsible for research, publications and programming across 600 schools.  Prizmah offers annual conferences where educators gather together to share in professional development.

This year, Prizmah offered targeted workshops for many types of schools. Small school sessions were planned throughout the conference, so our school leaders were able to access planning and development specific to their needs. 

Attending the conference allowed our schools to experience and network with a broad spectrum of ideas and people. The conference was filled with new ideas for teaching and learning.  Prizmah hosted the Dream Lab, where participants could experience innovative and accessible ideas to bring back to their schools and communities. From puppetry workshops, to various Hebrew language programs, to reimagining how Tefillah (prayer) is approached in schools, the conference offered an incredible variety of topics and presenters. In fact, it was so challenging to keep on top of all of the available sessions, that there was a Prizmah app to keep participants informed and engaged. Educators left with new ideas and Federation members came away with a better understanding of how JFNA can facilitate ongoing learning.  

Our education committee hopes to continue our work together to ensure that our schools thrive, not just now, but for future generations as well. Strong schools strengthen our community. They foster relationships and a connection to the larger Jewish community that will last a lifetime. 

Through continued collaboration with Prizmah and JFNA, we hope to help ensure the continuity of our community.  In helping students and their families access quality Jewish education, we hope that they will feel a deep connection with their community and feel empowered to give back. Our work in Jewish education today means that our children will be able and willing to do the work of tomorrow. 

The following are some reactions to the Prizmah Conference from Hamilton participants.

Rabbi Yaakov Morel, principal, Hamilton Hebrew Academy: "Prizmah has given me the time to connect with educators and organizations, and reflect on teaching practice. I found the sessions on Jewish values, rethinking how to teach Tefilla and the love of Israel, to be particularly helpful in supporting student success that continues beyond our school."

Romy Friedman, education committee member, Hamilton Jewish Federation: "I have been overwhelmed by the scope and quality of the sessions and Prizmah overall. In 13 years as an educator in the public and international systems, this has been one of the best professional development opportunities I have experienced."

Anita Bernstein, director of education, Kehila Heschel School: "This gave me the opportunity to see where all day schools intersect, in terms of values and the desire to serve our populations. Prizmah also provided us with an opportunity to see how each school is unique and special and fulfills the need in their community. We were also provided with valuable tools, connections and resources to continue to grow our programs."

Alice Mendelson is a member of the Hamilton Jewish Federation education committee.