The Day School Oscars


There was no red carpet. There wasn’t even a blue-and-white carpet.

But a week before “The Artist” walked away with best film honors at the Oscars, Ohio’s Columbus Torah Academy and Atlanta’s Weber Jewish Community High School took home top honors in the Academy Awards.

The Jewish Day School Video Academy Awards, that is.

Six schools won a total of $30,000 in prizes in the first-ever online video contest sponsored by the New York-based Avi Chai Foundation.

The culmination of a training program designed to help day schools improve their use of online videos, the contest generated 116 submissions from 68 schools — representing a range of denominations and sizes from all over North America.

Through four training webinars and free one-on-one sessions with See3 Communications, a nonprofit video production company, schools learned how to develop recruitment, fundraising and community-building videos.

“It had to be done completely by them. They were not allowed to bring in outside professionals,” said Leah Nadich Meir, a program officer at the Avi Chai Foundation. “In some of the schools, the students participated in the making of the video.”

The contest featured two categories of prizes: one (in which the Columbus school took first place) determined by votes garnered on the Internet, the other (favoring the Atlanta school) a panel of judges featuring Jewish communal leaders, like the Jewish Education Project’s David Bryfman and Jewish Education Service of North America’s Jonathan Woocher.

Called “If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words,” Columbus Torah Academy’s winning five-minute video combines playful stop-motion animation crafted from photos of school scenes with music and text to illustrate what an education at this Modern Orthodox school is “worth.”

Atlanta’s Weber School, a pluralistic high school, takes a different but equally engaging approach, mixing voiceovers from students and faculty with fast-cut footage of classroom and extracurricular activities and interviews with parents, students and administrators.

Each video represents a “massive amount of work,” said Avi Chai’s Nadich Meir, who noted that schools “have to film hours of footage and then have to edit to really tell your story.”

However, they are nonetheless relatively inexpensive to produce.

“Most of the schools did it without sophisticated equipment,” she said. “A lot did it with Flip cameras.”

And, thanks to YouTube, they are easy to disseminate. Although even a well-crafted day school video may find it hard to replicate the viral social networking appeal of, say, “Sh*t Girls Say” or its myriad spinoffs.

But that wasn’t the goal of the contest.

“We were hoping to create a sense of excitement in the schools about the use of video,” said Meir. “This is a way we hope Jewish day schools can get the message of Jewish day school education in general out, not just the message of their particular school.

The other four winners were: Lander-Grinspoon Academy (Conservative) in Northampton, Mass.; Milwaukee Jewish Day School (pluralistic); Greenfield Hebrew Academy (Orthodox) in Atlanta and Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (Conservative) in Jacksonville, Fla.

To see the videos and webinars, go to