Everyone Will Lead

Dan Brosgol
Director, Prozdor
Oct. 16, 2013

prozdor instructor calling on a studentI was out on my regular afternoon run a few days ago, when a 45-mile-per-hour wind suddenly picked up on the leading edge of a cold front. The sky went from sunny to ominous, the breeze, from light to gusty, and before I knew it I was running stretches on the track into an intense headwind. Soon, the rain came — and when it rained, it poured. Change happens fast.

In Jewish education, the wind is gusting. Hard. The storm is upon us.

Change isn’t here. Change already happened.

Did you notice?

For a generation, Jewish education has been about Jewish identity. Come learn with us and you’ll get some baseline literacy, a ration of Jewish pride, a sense of history and ritual and a desire to raise Jewish children. 

Those days are over. It’s not enough anymore to rally teens under the banner of “Jewish identity.” In their minds, they’re proud to be Jewish (94 percent of American Jews feel Jewish pride, according to a recent Pew study), so in their spare time their involvements, Jewish or not, had better be awesome. After all, why go and sit in a classroom when you can learn everything on your smartphone or download the JPS Tanakh on your iPad?

The choices Jewish kids and their families are making are changing in this new age of American Judaism. Synagogue affiliation is down. Day-school enrollments continue to decline. Attendance at supplemental schools is waning. In their place, part-time, low-cost options like service learning and “rosh hodesh” groups are growing. It could be argued that there are two poles forming in the Jewish educational landscape: either you want it all (Israel, camp, day school) or you want just enough (monthly learning or volunteerism).

So what are we doing at Prozdor?

We’ve restructured our curriculum and introduced several new learning options designed to give our students a more meaningful Jewish education. We know that teens want real skills. They want unique information and learning. They want to do, create, innovate and share. They want to be taken seriously and have things expected of them. They don’t want to just show up to class and sit around.

Beyond our grand redesign of the program and its structure, we’ve put a stake in the ground about our guiding principle. It’s not about identity. It’s about leadership. Kids don’t want to be pandered to, patronized or lectured at. They want to be led, guided and primed for performance, and race ahead as fast as IOS 7 can take them.

Prozdor is no longer about a passive Jewish Identity experience, or a teach-me-and-I’ll-listen framework. It’s about our students immersing themselves in majors and topics they really care about, and becoming proficient and performance-oriented in those subjects.

We have spaces, classes, programs and opportunities for Hebrew scholars and Israel learners, creative artists and Klezmer performers, ethics debaters and Jewish philosophers, survey researchers and movie-makers. They’ll spend four years in foundation classes in their majors and a spiraling series of electives demonstrating mastery, making strong connections with their peers and teachers, traveling the world and studying song-leading or for the SAT.

But it goes far beyond the learning, mastery and portfolio-building during grades eight to 11. A newly formulated senior-year curriculum will require completing a capstone project, teaching classes under the guidance faculty mentors, earning college credit in advanced coursework and staffing our trips to Israel and Ukraine. It’s not what we wish for — it’s what we expect.

I wrote in this space last year that “anyone can lead.” A little further down the road of the new Prozdor, I’d amend that slightly: Everyone will lead.