24 April 2015
5 Iyar 5775
On Wednesday and Thursday, we commemorated and celebrated Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) with educational activities and communal ceremonies including flag-lowering and flag-raising and the singing of Hatikva. Yesterday, on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, our students surprised the faculty with an Israeli dance flash mob during lunch! We even hosted the new Rami’s food truck, run by two Gann alumni and a Gann senior intern, who provided schwarma and falafel sandwiches to everyone.
Last night, as a fitting culmination to these meaningful days, we honored Israel and Israel education at our annual Nitzanim event. The guest speaker was Ayelet Ganani, Gann Chairperson of the Hebrew and Israel Programs Department, who is leading our effort to review and redesign four years of curriculum and pedagogy for Gann’s Israel education and experience.
Ayelet let us through a close reading and textual analysis of a famous Israeli children’s song, “Nad Ned,” a beautiful example in both content and process of how we hope our students will experience and encounter Modern Israel.
Seesaw Seesaw; Go up, go down; What is above, what is down below; Only me, me and you; Go down, go up; The two of us are a balance on the scale; Between heaven and earth
נַד, נֵד, נַד, נֵד; רֵד, עֲלֵה, עֲלֵה וָרֵד!; מַה לְמַעְלָה? מַה לְמָטָּה? –; רַק אֲנִי;
אֲנִי וָאָתָּה; שְׁנֵינוּ שְׁקוּלִים; בַּמֹּאזְנָיִם; בֵּין הָאָרֶץ לַשָּׁמַיִם.
Most Israelis know this song-poem the way that Americans know “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It was written by Israel’s National Poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik, as part of his efforts to revive and popularize the Hebrew language before the creation of the State in 1948. And while it is known as a cute children’s song, a closer reading reveals its cultural and spiritual significance for modern Israel and for Jewish identity today.
Ayelet shared that the line “What is above, what is down below” is an explicit allusion to a famous text in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. Bialik, a secular-cultural Jewish poet, was also educated in a traditional yeshiva, and this choice of words illustrates the way he, as a modern Jewish poet, was in dialogue with the classical texts, ideas, and theology of the Jewish tradition. Through the medium of his poetry, Bialik illustrates how “secular-cultural” Zionism and Judaism and the more classical Jewish “religious” tradition sit on the two sides of the seesaw.
In this way, “nad ned” represents the complex and dynamic relationship between Zionism and the rebirth of a “new” Jewish culture intimately connected to the State of Israel and a more “traditional” Jewish identity. This is one example of the ways we hope our students will encounter the depth and complexity of modern Israel and the wellspring of Jewish national, cultural, spiritual creativity that speaking our language in our state makes possible for our people.
The seesaw also represents other aspects of the Jewish and human journey that we strive to weave into a Gann education and our students’ relationships with Israel and Judaism. To give one example that Ayelet highlighted last night: You can’t play seesaw alone. If you want to be in the game, you have to choose someone to be on the other side. The song does not mandate whom, but you have to choose. In the spirit of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, you have to play this game—perhaps the game of learning and living, of Jewish and human exploration and self-actualization—in relationship with the Other. To put it in more traditional Jewish terms, this is what it means to choose to be part of a covenant: to feel and to act upon a profound sense of connectedness with and responsibility for one another, our family, our community, our people, our homeland, the world.
I don’t think I’ll ever look at a seesaw the same way again.
Rabbi Marc Baker