1 February 2013
21 Shevat 5773
Faces of the Jewish Journey
I had the pleasure of spending last week’s Shabbat at Gann with two of my children and almost our entire senior class for their final grade Shabbaton. From singing and praying to ping pong and football, it was a joy to be with my students in the sacred time and space that only Shabbat can create.
To mark this point in their Jewish journeys and to begin looking forward to the next stage of their lives, our Shabbat afternoon activity invited students to reflect in groups about their relationships with what I call “pillars” of Jewish identity: Jewish learning, traditions and practices, Israel, and choices about dating and (albeit not yet) marriage. We asked the students to think about where they are now and what choices they anticipate making as they move on to college and beyond.
As the facilitator of the discussion about Jewish learning and traditions and practices, I was impressed by the level of reflection and personal authenticity our students displayed, by the range of answers to these questions, and by how they supported each other on their very different journeys. One student spoke honestly about feeling as if she has lived for 18 years of her life with certain Jewish practices as non-negotiable. She bravely shared with everyone that, while she knows that Jewish tradition and practice will be part of her life in the long term, college might be a time for her to experiment with less tradition in her life, to explore what it would feel like to have a different relationship with Judaism to better appreciate the value of Judaism that she might take for granted now. Another student offered a completely different perspective. Coming from a relatively non-observant family, she commented that Judaism has become increasingly important to her during her time at Gann and shared that she might want to experiment with being shomer Shabbat (Shabbat observant) in college.
These two students and their classmates spoke with comfort and confidence about who they are and where they are with a strong sense of their Jewish selves and with openness about the possibilities that the future holds. I was reminded of the words of our founding Head of School Rabbi Daniel Lehmann when he would describe our pluralistic Jewish educational mission: “There is no one vision of an ideal Gann graduate.” We do not simply measure Jewish identity only in terms of where students are on a continuum of observance and practice. We do, however, envision graduates who have the knowledge, sophistication, and passion to make thoughtful, empowered choices about their Jewish lives and who see Judaism as a source of meaning and responsibility as they navigate this complex world.
Perhaps, this vision of 21st century Jewish identity development parallels the communal revelation at Sinai that we will read about in this week’s Torah portion. According to our tradition, our people stood at Sinai united by the experience of hearing one commanding Divine voice. At the same time, paradoxically, that one voice was (and continues to be) heard differently by each individual.
Our students, too, share a sense of commitment and obligation to Judaism and the Jewish people, while understanding and appreciating that living out this commitment and obligation can look different for different people at different stages in their lives. I hope that this understanding opens them up to a relationship with Judaism that will continue to deepen and evolve for the rest of their lives.
Rabbi Marc Baker