The Biggest Tent: A NewOrg For A New Schechter

[This is an unusually long post – even for me – I hope you stay with me to the end.]

If you read this blog (and thank you if you do!) then you know that we officially made public that which we had spent the better part of a year or so working so hard in private to make true…

NewOrg!

My board chair uses a yiddish expression to describe the journey Schechter has been on since our recent rebirth and it translates essentially to “riding two horses with one tuchus“. The metaphor probably explains both why the direction of the Schechter Day School Network has occasionally appeared helter-skelter and why our rumps are sore from travel.

[Rim shot.]

the-futureHowever jarring it might seem from the outside to witness the transition from the Solomon Schechter Day School Association to the Schechter Day School Network to NewOrg over the course of just three years, the truth is that the story of Schechter and many of its schools is the story of NewOrg and that is why I am confident and enthusiastic that NewOrg is a game changer for Schechter and for the field.

Let me state clearly that each organization has its own unique story leading up to this moment. In the here and now, as the leader of Schechter, it is only my place to share our story.

The story of Schechter over the last couple of years is a story of renewal, reconnection, reintroduction and rebirth.  I have visited over thirty-five Schechter schools in the last eighteen months and I can testify that the state of our union is strong.  There is unequivocally a thing called “Schechter” that includes, but is not limited to, both a clear educational philosophy and a strong sense of Jewish mission and vision.  There are broadly shared assumptions about standards, innovation, excellence, rigor, integration, Zionism, Hebrew language acquisition, centrality of prayer, and much more which simply cannot be reduced to policy or schedule or a prayerbook.  There are relationships with Conservative Judaism that include synagogues (USCJ), camp (Ramah), youth movements USY), and academia (JTS and AJU) and our schools have a multivalent relationship with the movement that is not a weakness of either, but a strength of both.

The story of Schechter is that of a big tent where Schechter schools share an overwhelming majority of critical characteristics that taken together clearly identify them as “Schechter” while preserving sufficient room for schools to be who they are in an ever-changing, ever-more-blurry Jewish world.  I blogged at length early in our rebirth about how all Schechter schools (really all Jewish day schools) are by some definition “community schools” and I revisit that notion here only to suggest that among many catalysts and forces that led to NewOrg, one that I believe is deserving of inclusion is the reemergence of Schechter as a vital force in the field.  Our work helped clarify that some boundaries are more permeable than others; that some lines had grown more blurry than others and that the future of Schechter and the field would require a healthy re-imagination of that adjacent possible.

 

And that brings us to NewOrg.

NewOrg makes possible for Jewish day schools what the current constellation of organizations could not – the ability to be defined across a multiplicity of domains and the opportunity to be resourced as such.  Schools will no longer be reduced to one definition as a result of politics or size or religious affiliation or cost.  NewOrg is the promise of personalized organizational support equal to that which our leaders and teachers require and our students deserve.  If you are a Schechter school by virtue of your Jewish mission and vision, a community school by virtue of your pluralistic enrollment, Hebrew immersed by virtue of your approach to second-language acquisition, Zionist by virtue of the centrality of Israel, “21st century” by virtue of your beliefs about innovation and educational technology, fiscally safeguarded by virtue of your endowment programs, etc., etc., etc., then your school will engage with NewOrg along and across all these dimensions with the people and resources  necessary to be the most successful version of your authentic self.

That’s why we believe this is a huge “win-win” and a gigantic “yes, and” for Schechter.

It is also why we believe this is a huge win for Conservative Judaism.

I’ll have more to say about this in upcoming posts, but for now let us be clear that the opportunities NewOrg presents are not only about what Schechter schools get, but what Schechter has to offer the field.  It makes it possible for the vision for Jewish day school that makes Schechter “Schechter” accessible to other schools who resemble Schechter schools in myriad ways.  There are Schechter schools whose Jewish mission and vision are either determined or informed by normative Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices. But there are a significant number of other schools whose centrist Jewish mission and vision mirror Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices.  NewOrg will provide those schools access to Schechter expertise and resources proven successful in a centrist Jewish context.  So not only is Schechter’s influence not reduced by NewOrg, we believe it is significantly enhanced, and with it the ability to share in the education of thousands upon thousands of Conservative Jewish children who attend other day schools.

 

NewOrg does not resolve each issue nor solve each problem facing Schechter or the field. Not even close.  Affordability, relevance, and excellence are just three categories of work NewOrg will need to address in bold new ways to fulfill its promise.   There remains many questions unanswered and an accelerated transition process during which to answer them. Not to mention our guarantee to the commitments of the here and now.  Our accountability to our schools and our programs remains as we navigate the path from here to there.  

 

The story of the Schechter Day School Network may not turn out to be the longest chapter in Schechter’s narrative, in fact, it is likely to be its shortest.  But we believe wholeheartedly that it will go down as amongst its most impactful and historic.  The narrative of Schechter will now be interwoven with the narratives of our sister organizations and of NewOrg itself.  We pray that together we will write a new and powerful chapter for our children, our communities, and our people.

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About Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher the Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network. He is the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (a K-8 Schechter), located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas. Jon is cofounder of edJEWcon and has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.
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