by Tamar Davis, CEO
As the snow is falling, and I look out at the bare, stark trees, I’m struck by the timing of our Jewish holiday celebrating the birthday of the trees — Tu b’Shevat (15th of Shevat) — being a few short weeks away. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to celebrate trees in the spring when they’re bursting with life, flowering and bearing fruit? There is a beautiful explanation* for this:
“During Tu B’shvat, ‘the trees begin to produce sap.’ From the external point of view, it seems that in this month the tree has no sign of life. But from an internal look, [our Sages] are telling us that things are not always what they seem, and that Tu B’shvat is indeed the beginning of the powers of growth and life that start to revive the tree. These powers are still unseen at this time, but they will come to fruition during the next two months until the blossoming of spring…”
Last week, in the middle of winter, over 1,000 professionals in the Jewish day school education field — including myself, Gateways Chief Strategy and Operating Officer Deirdre Munley, and Director of Day School Programs Sharon Goldstein — traveled from across North America and Israel to Denver for the Prizmah Conference. We came to learn how we can cultivate a love of learning in thousands of children and teens attending hundreds of Jewish day schools. Deirdre, Sharon, and I attended over 15 sessions, met with colleagues in the field, and deepened relationships within the large delegation of Boston leaders who attended (all in 2 ½ days!).
We also presented our own session: “Implementing a Bridge Program: Supporting Mental Health.” Sharon, along with our partner and School Psychologist Ali Shwartz of Boston’s Solomon Schechter Day School, shared lessons we’ve learned bringing a bridge program that combines clinical, academic, and family support for students with significant mental health challenges to a Jewish day school.
All of these sessions taking place in the dead of winter served as a reminder that when our students are at their “beginning of the powers of growth and life,” we may not yet be able to see their full potential. It is our sacred job as educators to invest in the possibilities of what the spring may hold for each individual child.
We are thrilled that the next Prizmah Conference in February 2025 will be held in Boston, and look forward to the next ingathering of so many like-minded, devoted Jewish educational leaders as we work to create inclusive and joyous learning environments for all our children and teens.