30 August 2013
24 Elul 5773
Dear Gann Community,
Our school year began in earnest this week. On Sunday, students from our junior class began their three-month journey of living and learning in Israel. With much excitement and some tears, parents, family, and friends watched them embark on an experience that will deepen their relationships with Israel, Jewish history, and the Jewish People. The students are thriving already! I am in regular contact with our educational partners at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel to ensure the quality of our students’ experience as well as their safety and well-being, especially in light of the uncertain situation in the Middle East.
On Monday, the newest members of our community arrived for Freshman Orientation, led, in part, by our own passionate and dedicated student leaders and mentors. Then, the whole school travelled to Camp Yavneh for our annual All-School Retreat. As I walked around the camp observing students and faculty engaged in activities from formal learning to sports to deep conversations under trees, once again I was reminded of what a unique and extraordinary community this is! From student-led team building games to tefillah (prayer) to faculty-led workshops on everything from the Beatles to ballroom dancing, students activated their creativity and critical thinking and collaboration skills that are all essential to the formation of their character and academic success. The retreat also reconnected students and teachers with one another, strengthening relationships, reinforcing values, and creating the strong school culture that are the foundation upon which the rigorous learning and pursuit of excellence take place throughout the year.
Also, last week I had the privilege of addressing a group of Gann students who returned to school early for a leadership training program. I shared with them one of the things that I love about Judaism and the concept of teshuva (repentance, returning, reflection, self-improvement) that characterizes this Jewish month of Elul and the entire High Holiday season. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book Future Tense:
The future is not a mere repetition of the past. Change, growth, development are all essential features of the human landscape. There are decisive moments that alter everything. God is not only present in eternity. He is also present in the here and now, in the process of change and transformation.
According to Rabbi Sacks, Judaism’s contribution to the world was the concept that the future can be substantively different from the past and that we are not only part of but also active contributors to the unfolding story of humankind.
This is a message about teshuva and the process of personal growth and improvement. It is also a message about leadership and tikkun olam (repairing the world). A leader is someone who is able to see the gap between the way the world is right now and the way the world could or should be. To lead and to repair the world mean to do what we can to close that gap, which demands courage, creativity, and conviction, as well as patience and compassion.
At Gann Academy, our students form their vision of a better future for the Jewish People and the world. And they develop the moral character, intellectual rigor, passion, and creativity to make their own unique contributions to the realization of that vision.
I wish us all a year of happiness and health, learning and growth. Together, may we continue to improve ourselves, our community, and our world.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
Rabbi Marc Baker