On the Shoulders of Giants

24 October 2014 
Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan 5775 

Shalom Chaverim,  

Our first full week of school after the holidays has been packed with out-of-the box learning experiences, inspiring programs, and visitors to our community. Twenty-nine high school students from Ironi Hey, our sister school in Haifa, spent the week at Gann, learning together, building connections with our students, and exploring together the relationship between Israel and America and what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. We are so grateful for our partnership with Ironi Hey High School and to Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) for helping to support and strengthen this relationship. At the closing breakfast yesterday, we spoke about what it means for our students to be part of the worldwide Jewish community, and CJP president Barry Shrage reminded them that the Jewish future is in their hands, as well as in their heads and in their hearts.  

Our Fall Grandparents and Friends Day brunch on Wednesday was particularly moving.  This event is an opportunity for Gann grandparents to see the school and deepen their connections to our community. Senior Ariella Beck Levisohn spoke about her Gann experience and what she has learned from her grandparents. Hearing Ariella’s words and watching her grandparents as they watched her brought tears to my eyes and captured the purpose of a Jewish high school education.  

In her remarks, Ariella connected the values she learned from her grandparents with what she has learned at Gann about service and tzedakah and Israel and education. “When I think about the people who have helped shape my values, it is clear to me that I have to look back to my grandparents,” Ariella said. She noted that her grandmother “taught me the value of community service and social justice, and she gave me a passion for helping others…”  

Ariella linked her grandparents’ legacy with her Gann education. “My grandparents are all teachers and learners. They’ve encouraged me to think deeply and critically, to ask questions, to have opinions and defend them…Gann is a place where I am pushed to think deeply about ideas, to learn from others, and to question my own assumptions.” 

As I listened to Ariella speak about her passion for Israel and for Jewish (and all) learning, as well as about service and tzedakah, I was reminded of the title of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ final address before stepping down as Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox community of Great Britain, entitled “A Judaism Engaged with the World.” We need to build a future which Jews are proud of and knowledgeable about their particular Jewish heritage and who understand that Judaism charges us to be part of and contribute to the broader world and the betterment of humankind. This is not a dichotomy, as so many people have come to believe, but, rather, to be Jewish is to be human and to feel deeply responsible for the world, as well as the continuation of our people and our tradition.  

In my eyes one of the most profound purposes of a Gann education is to teach our students that, during these powerful adolescent years of coming of age and striving for excellence, life is not all about them. They are not alone in the world, and they are not alone in history.  Yes, they are creators, and they are innovators,  but, as importantly, they are inheritors of something deep and profound—the wisdom, values, and experiences of their grandparents, of their people, and of others who have come before them.  

Knowing this and internalizing this give students a healthy sense of reverence and humility, as well as confidence, empowerment, and inspiration. Standing on the shoulders of these giants, our children can accomplish anything.  

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, 

Rabbi Marc Baker 


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