13 May 2016
5 Iyar 5776
One of the most powerful ways that a Jewish high school experience strengthens and deepens its students’ connectedness to Judaism is by beating to a Jewish rhythm of the calendar and the Jewish People. Anyone who has spent time in Israel understands the power of a Jewish civic space where, regardless of whether you define yourself as “religious,” “secular,” or something in-between, you encounter Jewish culture in the form of language, people, values, history, and time.
The absence of all of these is one of the reasons why it is so challenging to sustain a deep, rich, meaningful, particular cultural identity in a melting pot like America. This is why it is so powerful and formative for American Jewish teenagers to experience one of their most formative experiences (high school) in the context of a purposeful, Jewish community. This is the best of both worlds.
The rhythm of the Jewish calendar is intense and poignant during this time of year. Last week we observed Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), and this week we commemorated Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). I want to express my gratitude to all of the teachers, students, and community members, especially our Hebrew teachers and Israeli educators, who have worked so hard to create meaningful and memorable ceremonies and learning experiences for our students.
In this spirit of gratitude, I also invite you to join me and our Board of Trustees next Tuesday night, May 17, at The Gann Awards. Board President Frank Litwin and I will take a look back at this past school year in our Year-in-Review, and we will honor and recognize members of our community for their contributions to Gann in living out Gann’s mission and core values in the world. I look forward to seeing many of you there!
One of the highlights from this week was a visit by Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School and his presentation to the whole school about “Israel as an Event in Jewish History.” The intellectual level and clarity of thought felt as if we were all sitting in a Harvard Law School class.
A memorable moment in Professor Feldman’s talk occurred in response to a student’s question about what it will take for new ideas about Israel and Jewish identity to come from students like ours. “You are the vanguard,” he answered, with a mix of seriousness and humor. He explained the concept of a vanguard as an elite and highly educated group that has been identified by the leaders of a movement (in this case the Jewish community) as its future leaders and the transmitters of its vision, culture, and values. “It’s worth noting that the vanguard often ends up killing off (literally or metaphorically) its parents and teachers and starting a revolution of its own,” he added, to a room full of laughter.
However, in all seriousness, Professor Feldman delivered a critical message about Israel and the Jewish future to our students. “How Israel will look as part of Jewish consciousness in the future will not be determined by me or people my age but rather by you. You are in a unique position, not so much because of what you know but because of what you do with what you know.”
His words reminded us that beating to a Jewish rhythm and connecting to the Jewish past, to Israel and the Jewish People are not only about the past, memory, and personal identity.
They are also a call to action, empowerment, and responsibility for our future. We are educating our next generation of leaders. It will be determined by them.
Rabbi Marc Baker