Preparing Leaders for the 21st Century

8 January 2016
27 Tevet 5776

Shalom Chaverim,

In the Jewish tradition, we beat to the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, with Rosh Hashanah marking our new year, both ritually and spiritually. However, as Americans and global citizens, we regard the secular new year as an opportunity to look back at what we have accomplished and look forward to what we aspire to achieve.

In this spirit, I am proud to share with you the recently released Gann Annual Report for the 2014-15 School Year. As I read through it, I am reminded of the words that last year’s New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Visiting Committee wrote in our Accreditation Report:

“The Visiting Committee commends Gann Academy for accomplishing so much over a mere eighteen years. The school, as it stands today, is a stunning testament to the potential of pure will and sustained commitment. Such impressive growth, development, and institutional progress can only be the result of the consistent and substantive efforts of many – teachers, alumni, administrators, board members, students, members of the greater community, and parents. It is clear that Gann inspires loyalty and passion in these constituencies, and each has played a significant role in making the school what it is today.”

While I haven’t run the text of their report through Wordle, several key words and phrases jumped off the page to me and, together, capture the essence of Gann: “Educating new generations,” “leaders for the 21st century,” “forging new paths,” “experiment and innovate,” “a boundary-less learning environment,” “blazing new trails,” “carrying on a tradition of excellence.” The report quotes one of our student-activists: “As human beings, we have a moral responsibility . . . to let the next generation experience the world and its beauty as we have.”

Our teachers, students, and alumni are striving and achieving the extraordinary, and they understand that they have the opportunity and responsibility to connect the beauty and wisdom of the past with the future of our people and the world. That reminds me of the opening of this week’s Torah portion and a brief d’var Torah that I was invited to write for the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston’s newsletter.

One of the challenges of education is that often our children feel like passive recipients of someone else’s knowledge, some else’s Judaism. They feel as if it is their job simply to replicate or continue the values and experiences of those who came before them. When this is the case, Judaism and learning in general are often irrelevant to their lives and their futures.

On the contrary, the opening of this week’s Torah portion, “Va’era,” and, in particular, one of Rashi’s commentaries, offer a beautiful insight into Jewish spirituality that address this challenge. “And God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but in My name “the Lord” I was not known to them.” (Exodus 6:1-3) Rashi explains this last line as follows: (God says:) “My quality of trustworthiness, which the name ‘the Lord’ represents, was not known to them (your ancestors) because while I promised them (to bring them to the Land of Israel), I did not fulfill my promise (during their lifetime).”

This is radical. According to this, God had unfinished business with our ancestors, who never knew God in all of God’s fullness because there was more of the story left to write. To put it differently, we and our next generations are living out both the unfolding story of Jewish history and the unfolding relationship between God and the Jewish people.

This, of course, applies to us, as well. Neither God’s full name nor the future is fully known to us. Only when we empower and inspire our children to truly make their learning and their relationship with Judaism their own will we and they fulfill our sacred responsibilities to be links in the chain of history and leaders for the 21st century.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

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