17 June 2016
11 Sivan 5776
The school year is coming to a close. Today was our last day of exams and, this coming Sunday, we will celebrate the graduation of our 17th class. For many of us the end of the year brings relief as we head into the restorative summer months. It is also a time for reflection and appreciation, as we look back on how hard we have worked and on all we have accomplished over the past year and, for our graduates, four years.
Last night was Gann’s Senior Night, a showcase of our seniors’ projects, internships and independent studies that they completed this spring. The Class of 2016 independently pursued deeper learning and experiences in areas of interest to them. It is an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge that they have gained at Gann in a particular discipline and to dive deeply into that area. It is also an opportunity to explore – through study, expedition or internship – a new frontier, something they have always wanted to learn or do.
What was most powerful about last night was watching our students become our teachers. From photography, animation and a public mural to new computer code and bioengineering to local hiking and the March of the Living to interning with research labs, start-ups, politicians and investors, the range of our students’ passions and talents is extraordinary. This was a small glimpse into the unique ways that these Gann graduates will contribute to our community and our world for many years to come.
In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we read the Priestly Blessing, three short lines with which the kohanim (priests) would bless B’nei Yisrael, and with which many parents bless their children on Friday nights and other meaningful occasions. The command to the kohanim contains an ambiguity that illuminates concept of blessing, or being a blessing for the world. They are told: “Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them . . .” But then, a few lines later, God concludes: “Thus shall they link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” It is not clear who is doing the blessing, the kohanim or God.
This ambiguity teaches a powerful lesson about spirituality, service and leadership. On the one hand, the kohanim, and by extension all of us have the spiritual power to bless others and to bring blessing into the world. This is almost radical empowerment and comes with awesome responsibility. On the other hand, we should not think that this power comes from ourselves. We need the humility and gratitude to remember that we are not the source, but rather are the necessary vessels, channels for goodness and holiness to come into the world. No source, no blessings. No vessels, no blessings.
What I love most about working with high school students every day is that these precious years of adolescence are when our students are discovering, uncovering, getting in touch with, and sometimes struggling with their source. They are coming to terms with their power, their light, their inner spark, and they are finding the unique voice, the channel through which they will shine that light into the world.
The journey is long, filled with great joys and also with real and sometimes excruciating challenges. But, when you get a glimpse of that light, as we did last night and have so many times throughout this school year, you remember with great reverence and wonder what this sacred process of education is all about.
To our students and parents, who navigate this journey with courage, conviction, patience and compassion; to our faculty and staff who, with extraordinary dedication and care, help guide each student toward becoming the blessing that he or she is able to become; and, to all of the volunteers and supporters who make all of our work possible, thank you all for another incredible year.
Wishing you a Shabbat shalom and a safe, restorative and fun summer,
Rabbi Marc Baker