25 April 2014
25 Nisan 5774
I often say that one sign of a school’s strength and its coming of age is when alumni come back to become teachers in the school. As a school that is only 17 years old, Gann Academy has been blessed with passionate, talented, and intellectually curious alumni who are already accomplishing significant things in many professional arenas. These include scholars, entrepreneurs, doctors, entertainers, rabbis, businesspeople, and non-profit leaders. And our alumni are teachers in every level of education. We are so proud that several of them and their spouses have taught and continue to teach current and future generations of Gann students.
Yesterday, I witnessed firsthand the power of our alumni network and of Gann’s coming of age. Walking through the school’s lobby, I encountered one of our current alumni/teachers who was giddy with excitement. At first I thought it was just his usual enthusiasm or a naturally rejuvenated, post-holiday state. Then he informed me that he was waiting for the guest speaker in his film class, another Gann alumnus who is now a professional filmmaker and who, himself, was Gann’s first alumnus teacher! Our teacher invited his teacher to speak to his students about filmmaking and his personal and professional journey. And both of these teachers were themselves Gann graduates, albeit from different generations.
I eagerly greeted and welcomed back our alumnus and then visited the class, where I heard him describe how he developed a passion for film and how his film classes at Gann (then “New Jew”) helped to nurture and strengthen that passion. As our students listened intently and our current teacher proudly observed the “mi dor l’dor – from generation to generation” moment he had created, I thought about how far Gann has come and about the deeply Jewish notion of mesorah, tradition.
This Shabbat we begin the tradition of reading one chapter a week of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, between Passover and Shavuot. The famous opening of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot contains a verb that is a source for the entire notion of mesorah: “Moshe kibel Torah miSinai u’mesarah l’Yehoshua . . . Moses received the Torah (from God) at Mount Sinai and passed it to Yehoshua, who passed it to the Elders, who passed it to the Prophets, who passed it . . .”
This Mishnah is a source for the idea that the Torah (in its broadest sense), the very teachings and traditions that we learn today from our teachers, was learned and, in turn, taught by our founding student-teacher, Moses, thousands of years ago. One way to read this is as a theological-historical justification for the divine authority of the Torah. However, another way to read it is through an existential-experiential lens. What is learning supposed to feel like? Even in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, contemporary world, when we learn from our teachers, we are supposed to imagine them learning from their teachers and their teachers from theirs. We can feel we are part of something much larger than we are that began long before us and that will continue long after us. We can feel the awe, inspiration, and profound sense of responsibility of taking our place in a long line of learners and teachers. This is what learning Torah should feel like, the opening of Pirkei Avot teaches us.
Seeing the looks on our students’ faces as they watched their teacher watch his teacher with such reverence and admiration filled me with gratitude for the past and hope for the future for both our school and our People.
Rabbi Marc Baker