Boston’s Jewish day schools play a crucial, indelible role in our community—and now, thanks to Stronger Together, they’ve united in a completely new way to create even greater support and access for school communities.
Stronger Together is aptly named: it’s a collaboration initiative designed in partnership with the leaders of Greater Boston’s 14 Jewish day schools, The Beker Foundation and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. It operates with a clear philosophy—schools are stronger when they work together toward common goals. The program is led by Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.
“The Boston community is setting an example to others for community day school partnership that leads to measurable benefits for the schools, including decreased costs, greater efficiencies and increased quality of student-family experience,” says Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein. “Prizmah’s priorities in ensuring the future success of Jewish day schools are addressing affordability, talent and educational excellence. At the school level and the communal level, leaders in many cities, including Boston, San Diego, Seattle and Atlanta, have been deeply invested in experimenting with new models, making Jewish day school a more compelling option for all families—which have served as an inspiration to other communities across North America.”
As for now, Stronger Together has lots of impactful initiatives underway here in Boston: Shiluv: Gateways Peer Disability Education Program will convene and train a cohort of teachers from six schools to build more inclusive communities. Job-alike groups will allow school leaders with similar roles to connect and support one another, from admissions professionals to Jewish learning directors. Shared middle school advanced math classes, shared coaching for teachers and shared part-time roles across schools are also in the works. These pilots are intended to create measurable benefits for schools while also building camaraderie within the Jewish community.
“We bring together schools of all different sizes, all points of view, with their own unique personalities, with the overall goal of strengthening the ecosystem through collaborative initiatives that help us do three things: provide consistently high-quality education at all the schools, bring that education to more kids and make our schools more efficient to drive further affordability,” says Stronger Together director Aimee Close.
On Aug. 28, 2023, that mission was brought to life as local heads of school, along with roughly 350 teachers and staff members, gathered at Schechter Boston for a groundbreaking day of professional development to learn about artificial intelligence as an educational tool. It was a diverse group united by a shared vision and a willingness to learn from one another in the service of Jewish families throughout the area.
“There were people sitting at tables who had never met each other, who realized they were teaching similar subjects in different schools but had never encountered each other. What could it look like if they actually had opportunities to share ideas with one another? What could emerge?” Close says.
It could look pretty amazing, attendees say. The AI subject matter was cutting-edge and important, and the fact that the schools learned about it together was even more meaningful.
“As heads of local Jewish day schools, we had envisioned for years a community-wide professional day of learning for educators and leaders, but it was always too challenging to coordinate schedules and priorities across schools. We all realized the value of actually being together as a collective to building a sense of community and expanding networks of collaboration, but there was a feeling that it just couldn’t be done,” says Brian Cohen, head of school at MetroWest Jewish Day School. “Due to the leadership of Stronger Together and the collaboration between schools, we were able to join together to learn how to harness a new factor universally impacting the way humans learn now and in the future: AI. Prior to this day, there was a sense that all Jewish day schools in Boston were connected in some way. Now, it’s a reality.”
Amy Gold, head of school at Epstein Hillel School, was equally delighted by both the forward-thinking collaboration and also by the forward-thinking topic.
“As educators, we need to be proactive about addressing the challenges and opportunities that technology brings into our students’ lives and our schools. AI is rapidly affecting everyday life, whether it’s predictive text when writing an email or creating new digital content in the realms of art and music. … As a Jewish day school, there are many pathways to incorporate Jewish values into the responsible and ethical use of technology as we prepare our students for the future,” she says.
The initiative is possible in part thanks to The Beker Foundation, whose mission is to make the Jewish community more inclusive and welcoming—a perfect fit for Stronger Together. Executive director Sheri Gurock’s parents founded Beker in the 1980s; her dad’s parents were Holocaust survivors who came to Malden from displaced persons camps in Europe and found a home within the Jewish day school community.
“My dad’s family was the recipient of a lot of community support. He went to Maimonides School on a full-ride scholarship, commuting every day from Malden to Brookline. I imagine, for my grandparents, just what it must have felt like to be able to give their children a proud, safe, Jewish education,” says Gurock, whose own kids attend Jewish day schools.
“I think we often felt a sense of missed opportunity that the schools weren’t working more closely together. The idea of a thriving, welcoming, inclusive Jewish community is very important to us. Having people from a wide variety of Jewish backgrounds and experiences in a room together, working toward this shared mission of educating our community’s children together, is very powerful,” she says.
And the collaboration comes at a crucial time—both for Jewish education and also for the world, said Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of CJP.
“As we think about the vision for our vibrant, thriving Jewish community, we cannot understate the importance of Jewish education. The character of a people and a culture is defined by the strength and the character of its schools and of its educators. Our Jewish future is in your hands—and, as I look out at this room, I could not be more confident,” he said at the event. “We’re living in precarious and challenging times. We have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that especially affects our children. And we’re witnessing democracy itself in crisis here in America, in Israel and around the world. We have a sacred responsibility to send the next generation of Jewish citizens out into the world. And I believe that what’s happening in our Jewish day schools is profound tikkun (repair) for the brokenness of our democracy and our society.”