Weekly Message 1-20-12

20 January 2012 
25 Tevet 5772 

Shalom Chaverim, 

It was a busy week at Gann Academy, beginning with a weekend of sports, arts, and community service. On Sunday we had our most well-attended Winter Arts Festival ever, with students presenting and performing work from across the artistic disciplines as a culmination of their first semester’s learning and growth. Then, the exciting Gann-Maimonides basketball games took place right after the festival, as we moved from a celebration of our students’ artistic creativity to enthusiastic support of our student athletes in their biggest competitions of the year. All of our teams were victorious and look forward to continuing the rivalry with rematches this coming Saturday night.  

On Monday, many members of the Gann community, including teachers and staff, students and families, participated in Martin Luther King Day community service and learning activities around the Greater Boston area. This was an important opportunity for the Gann community to honor Dr. King’s memory through action, engagement, and civic participation in our communities. In our first year of this new “Gann Gets Out” approach to celebrating and commemorating MLK Day, we have learned from many successes and look forward to building on this momentum next year. In the meantime, I want to highlight one student’s experience, which beautifully illustrates Gann’s mission in action.  

As part of a program at the Museum of Fine Arts, the student’s group worked on different arts and crafts projects relating to MLK Day. One project focused on community, and, as this student described, “We contributed in a very Gann way.  While others wrote in big letters ideas such as ‘Peace,’ ‘Love,’ and ‘Community,’ we, of course, added: ‘Pluralism.’” Her email to me included pictures of the mural, on which our students also drew an archway (see picture below) with the words “Tichon Chadash” (New Jewish High School) and “Gann 2012,” as well as the quote by Amos Oz that is in our Beit Midrash: “The Crossroads is where I belong.”  She wrote,  “This message both speaks strongly about a goal of our school, as well as something to keep in mind when thinking about MLK Day and the choices civil rights activists made to bring about change, as well as the choices we ourselves make.”  

This group’s participation and contribution illustrate (quite literally) so many dimensions of their Gann education. In the spirit of Sunday’s Winter Arts Festival, they chose to participate through an artistic medium, showing that the arts provide an important way for students to express themselves and their creativity, shaping and sharpening new lenses through which they see the world, and providing a powerful way to build community around shared experiences and expression. Their emphasis on pluralism, crossroads, and choices illustrate our students’ understanding that true community is not only about unity and harmony, but also about honoring and preserving diversity and complexity.  

As this thoughtful student’s email concludes, the crossroads is a powerful metaphor for the choices we make every day. It reminds us of the mussar concept of nekudot bechira (choice points) about which I have written recently in the context of ethical decision making. Described elaborately by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his work Michtav Eliahu (translated into English as Strive for Truth), nekudot bechira are where the rubber hits the road – the crossroads, so to speak – in the formation of our character and the shaping of our identity. Bechira points include small choices such as what to snack on or whether to pick up a piece of trash or large choices such as, in the words of Facing History and Ourselves, whether to be an upstander or a bystander in the face of injustice.  

The choices we make are the foundation of our character and identities, morally, spiritually, and Jewishly, and focusing on our choices is where learning, growth, and personal development begin. We should be proud that our students understand this and that they chose to share this concept with our community in honoring the memory of MLK.  

Shabbat Shalom,  

Rabbi Marc Baker 

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