5 February 2016
26 Shevat 5776
Yesterday was an inspiration to me and to many of our students, faculty, and staff. As many of you know, one of our beloved students, Isy Mekler, was diagnosed with lymphoma earlier this winter. The long-term prognosis is good, but the road is long. Isy and his family’s incredible spirit and strength have been extraordinary as has our community’s response.
Our students and Isy’s junior class, in particular, have been working creatively with one another and with our faculty and administration on different ways to show love and support to their classmate and friend. Yesterday, our entire 11th grade class, along with several teachers and administrators, traveled by bus from our Waltham campus to Boston Children’s Hospital to donate blood in honor of Isy.
When I arrived to the Blood Bank to join our students in donating blood, I was overcome with emotion. The small room was filled with our Gann students—some who had already donated blood, some who were waiting in line, and some who could not donate for whatever reason. They were playing games, talking with one another, and writing letters to Isy in a notebook, and everyone was wearing “I Donated Blood in Honor of Isy” stickers. One adult shared with me, “Most of them haven’t even spent much time on their phones today—they’re just talking, playing, connecting with one another, being together.”
Several of the nurses commented on how well-behaved our students were and what mensches they are. One nurse said to me, “Thank you. It is so incredible that your school allowed the students to do this on a school day.”
I want to confess that, when I first heard about the idea of the entire class spending the day at Children’s, I was skeptical. It takes only 30 minutes to donate blood. What will our students do there? Will it feel like a waste of time? Will we be criticized by parents, teachers, others? After all, it is a whole school day in the middle of junior year. I loved the sentiment, but all of those thoughts ran through my head.
Thanks to the persistence of many of my colleagues and students, our core values and the bigger picture won out over my initial doubts and anxieties. This was a moment and an opportunity to empower our students, to build community, and to walk the walk of the values we try to teach every day. People first. Values first. Do the right thing. In our busy, fast-paced world, even in the face of need, it is so tempting to respond, “Sorry, I have work to do”, or “I have a test tomorrow” or “This job has to get done.”
Yet, who we are and what we truly care about are defined by these moments, by the choices we make and the priorities we set. If we do not have the courage and the discipline to put
first things first, there will never be a good time to do the things that matter. These four years of high school are a laboratory, not only for academic drive and extracurricular pursuit of excellence but also for how we and our children live out our values—for the character of our students and our community and for the humane beings they are becoming.
In many ways, this decision was based on what our tradition and this week’s Torah portion might call a “naaseh v’nishma” moment. This is how the Israelites respond—“We will do (what God commands us) and we will understand” –after Moses reads them the Torah at Mount Sinai. They accepted upon themselves the covenant and committed to living it out before fully knowing what they were getting themselves into. They had the trust and the faith that, if they “leaned in” and said “yes”, that meaning, significance, and understanding would follow.
Obviously, there are real problems with blind faith and following. Critical thinking is both an academic tool and a foundation of an ethical life. At the same time, there are times when rational analysis does not suffice or when we can’t logically answer all of those nagging questions in our head. Still, we have the faith and courage to lead with our convictions, to put our core values and service to others first. We say yes to what is right and good, even when it is complicated and hard and we haven’t yet figured it out and even in the face of so many other competing priorities.
Yes, our entire junior class missed a whole day of school yesterday to give blood for a friend, and I believe they will understand the meaning and significance of that day for the rest of their lives.
I am so proud of our students and of our school. On behalf of all of us, I’m sending love, strength, and refuah shleimah (speedy and full recovery) to Isy.
Rabbi Marc Baker