One of the biggest challenges facing the day school world is the uncomfortable silence—both locally and nationally—that subsists around day school in many sectors of our Jewish community. Our responsibility as advocates is to counter this silence, address the accompanying lack of support for the Jewish day school enterprise in some communities, and promote positive change.
After having the opportunity to serve as a JOIN for Justice Fellow and program associate for regional advocacy at PEJE this year, I can tell you that not only is change is very possible, it is essential to our mission of building vibrant, sustainable day schools.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a Chassidic master who lived at the turn of the 19th century, taught that when judging another person, no matter how wicked their actions might be, we must strive to find the “dots of goodness” within them. This process—of finding “some little bit of good and judging [people] favorably”— unlocks a transformative power that can change the way the “bad person” views him or herself and how they act in society.
I mention Rebbe Nachman because his teaching can inform our actions when it comes to advocating for Jewish day school—and helping us to promote change. Just as the positive perception of an individual can alter their behavior, so too can we, as day school advocates, alter the communal conversation around day school by speaking more passionately, more loudly, and more often, about the schools we love. When we become the advocates that we can be, the “dots” that we create across the Jewish communal landscape will ultimately begin to transform the way the community views day school. And it doesn’t have to be a huge statement every time—we can all start small and build the excitement person by person, week by week.
We can change the way we talk about day school with our best friends in a casual exchange. Or we can plan activities like nights of learning, or begin new programs in our schools, to wow those who have never heard of or experienced day school. There are many ways to impact the conversation—it’s not just about honing a single “value proposition.”
Want to get started? Here are some things to keep in mind as you become the best day school advocate…ever.
- The Energy is There, You Just Need to Harness It: While we hear about and congratulate those communities that have received seven- or eight-figure gifts that have raised the profile of day school locally, the lack of such a gift is not an excuse to shy away from advocacy. Instead, think creatively about how to leverage your current assets to infuse the local community with positive associations to day school.
- Determine a Specific Target: Choose a target group for your advocacy efforts. Who do you want to get on your side? Whose words of support for your school would really make a difference in the community? Keep in mind that your target needs to be someone whose actions you can feasibly change.
- A Product Worth Advocating For: Successful advocacy is bound up with the success of our schools in educating students well and making them feel like they had a positive experience. When alumni come out of a day school and speak well about the school as they go through their lives, it adds to the value of your school and of JDS in general. We need to make sure all of our schools are giving students the kind of experiences they will want to rave about for years after they’ve left the school’s hallways.
- Real Chutzpah: Own your awesomeness. You are worth talking about. So act like it!
- Activate Your Network: Leveraging your network of allies is key to getting the word out there about your school. Get those who already support you to spread the word. These people might be your parents, your local federation, your staff, your donors, local rabbis, and other community members. The more voices you have out there, the quicker the news spreads.
Changing the conversation about day school doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Each of us, being thoughtful about how we represent day school in our lives, can make a significant difference. So be the advocate you wish to see in the world. And together, we will raise the profile of day school in our communities.
Ross Bloom has worked in PEJE’s regional advocacy program since September, 2011 as a JOIN for Justice Jewish Organizing Fellow. This is Ross’ last week of work at PEJE. We offer him warm congratulations on completing his fellowship, kudos for his advocacy work on behalf of JDS, and best wishes in his next journey. Check out Ross’ previous blog posts under the “Regional Advocacy” tab for more tips on spreading the word about day school!