2 December 2011
6 Kislev 5772
When Gann students and alumni are asked what makes Gann unique, they often talk first about their relationships with their teachers. Gann is blessed with educators who are passionate about what they teach, who work diligently to improve how they teach, and who care deeply about whom they teach— our students. The development of these teacher-student relationships can include teachers meeting with students outside of classes to extend and apply their classroom learning or to offer extra support. Teachers work hard to know and understand their students as learners and human beings to best facilitate their learning. And another way these relationships are formed is through meaningful shared experiences of Jewish learning and living—like yesterday’s celebration…
Last Sunday I had the joy of officiating at the wedding of two of our teachers, Jonah Hassenfeld and Ziva Reimer. Because Jonah is also an alumnus of Gann, the wedding was filled with Gann alumni and alumni parents, current teachers, and members of the greater Gann community. Last night, as part of the newlyweds’ ongoing celebration, Gann hosted a sheva brachot meal, an opportunity for our community to eat, sing, share words of Torah, and recite the traditional seven blessings in honor of the chattan and kallah (groom and bride). This was a wonderful simcha (joyous occasion) and an experiential learning opportunity for our students, who participated in the mitzvah of m’sameach chattan v’kallah (bringing joy to the groom and bride) and who were able to be part of this incredible moment in their teachers’ lives. This is what it means to be “more than a school”, to be a community, where the power of authentic and inspiring real life Jewish experiences strengthen the learning relationships that are so essential to students’ intellectual, moral, and spiritual learning and growth.
As I think about the power of moments like this sheva brachot meal and the place that these moments have in our students’ educational experience, I am drawn to the well-known image of sulam Yaakov (Jacob’s ladder) at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The ladder is described as “mutzav artza – set on the ground” with “rosho magiyah hashamayma – its head reaching toward the sky/heavens,” with angels of God “olim v’yordim bo – going up and down the ladder.” One interpretation of this image that resonates with me is about the relationship between our spiritual moments and our regular, day-to-day lives. Most of us don’t live our lives on one continuous spiritual or intellectual high; rather, we are “muzav artza,” grounded in the real world of daily living. Yet, our ordinary lives can take on new meaning when they are inspired by and infused with the spirit and energy of transformative experiences as well as our dreams and aspirations. We climb the ladder for a taste of shamayim (the heavens), and then we bring the heavens right back down to earth with us. In doing so, we have the opportunity to elevate our everyday world “down here” to a higher level.
This dynamic is true for marriage, and it is certainly true for learning, as well. Our students and teachers are engaged every day in the hard work of education. Not every class or every assignment is paradigm-shifting or life-altering. Yet, this hard work takes on greater meaning and purpose when students grow to love what they learn because they respect and care about the people from whom and with whom they learn everyday. Experiences like a sheva brachot celebration can elevate these relationships and our learning to an even higher level.
We are grateful to Mr. Hassenfeld and Ms. Reimer for sharing their simcha with our Gann community – mazel tov!
Rabbi Marc Baker