31 January 2014
30 Shevat 5774
Rosh Chodesh Adar I
This past Wednesday we welcomed to our community an Israeli educator and leader, Brigadier General (res.) Ram Shmueli, the founder of an organization called Meetchabrim (Connections). Shmueli explained Meetchabrim’s mission—to increase the sense of mutual responsibility (arvut) in the society and the nation through open dialogue, targeted action, and dedicated learning (limmud—and some of the ways they try to achieve that mission. The organization uses our new age of networks to bring together members from different segments of Israeli society to share positive experiences, to connect socially with one another, and to discover what they have in common.
I confess that, at first, as I listened to Shmueli’s presentation, and even as I witnessed in pictures and videos the incredible work he is doing to bring people together, I filtered his work through the lens of Gann’s vision of pluralism. At Gann we strive for more than just being together under one roof and more than finding what we have in common; we are committed to actively engaging, wrestling, and struggling with the important issues that divide us. We believe that through this wrestling our students develop the habits of mind and heart needed to truly see and understand the other, to strengthen personal commitments and convictions, and to build self-awareness and self-confidence. Listening to Shuemli speak, I wondered where is the deep engagement, when do they get to the real work of connecting with one another?
I asked him this question, and his answer was a reminder of something that I often overlook. Meetchabrim does this kind of dialogue and engagement with differences, he explained, and actually plans to begin this work in 2014. However, people cannot engage with their differences until they have a relationship, a connection with one another. Just being together—walking, hiking, singing, dancing, and finding and celebrating what we can share in common—builds a foundation upon which the harder work of pluralism, of connecting not only around what unites us but also what divides us, can happen.
This reminds me of the beautiful and poignant image in this week’s Torah portion of the cherubim—the two golden-winged creatures that sat on top of the aron, the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Torah, these cherubim sat “facing one another” – “u’f’neihem ish el echav” (Exodus 25:20).
The cherubim sat like guardians atop the ark that held the Tablets of the Covenant, our people’s core values and teachings. Ironically, it is so often our efforts to interpret and live out our shared values, traditions, teachings, and culture that are the very acts that divide us. After all, when we feel passionately about our notion of what it means to live out a Jewish life or to take responsibility for the Jewish future, it can be hard to tolerate, let alone fully understand or appreciate, others’ equally passionate but different notions. It can be even harder to look the other in the face.
As we aspire to deep engagement, dialogue, respectful wrestling with each other about essential questions and in pursuit of truth, we should not overlook one of the most extraordinary things about our school. There are very few places in the Jewish world where Jews from different backgrounds and religious denominations even come together under one roof to share anything, let alone to learn together, eat together, play sports together, act in plays together, travel to Israel together, grow and form into young adults together. We are working to build a caring and compassionate community, a model of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish People), where we strive to look one another in the face, to see, respect, and connect to one another as Jews and as human beings.
We should always strive for more and appreciate just how far we have come and how special our community is.
Rabbi Marc Baker