16 March 2012
22 Adar 5772
This week’s student council elections illustrated Gann’s emphasis on democratic education and civic participation. The process of electing student leaders is itself an exercise in democracy, and candidates’ speeches highlighted core principles of a democratic society and the kind of community Gann strives to be.
Our newly elected president ran on a platform of “Let’s own it!” As a good rhetorician, she used stories to bring her message to life: “Last year, two students wanted to start a robotics program at Gann – now they’re going back to the World Championships for the second year in a row. They owned it, and it happened. This year, one student wanted to bring Stephen Wallace to speak to our student body. She owned it, and it happened.” Look what happens, she emphasized, when students bridge their ideas, passion and creativity with a sense of responsibility to participate in the building of our school culture: they take ownership of their Gann experience, help shape our educational program, and become partners in the creation of community. She then went on to talk about other ways that students can and must “own it” and suggested that student council’s role under her leadership would be to support student initiatives and give voice to their ideas.
Mazel tov to all of our newly elected student council officers and to all of the candidates who took a risk and ran for office. All of them should be proud of what they have accomplished.
There is a message of democracy and civic participation in this week’s Torah portion as well. We will read the final chapters of Shemot (Exodus), which recap in great detail the materials and the construction of the mishkan (tabernacle), the sanctuary that will travel through the desert with B’nei Yisrael. We are reminded of God’s command to build the mishkan: “Take from among you gifts to the Lord; kol nediv libo (everyone whose heart so moves him) shall bring them – gifts for the Lord . . .” (Shemot 35:5). At its core, this command reflects our new student council president’s message to the Gann community, as God’s message is also: “You have to own it.” Own the building of this mishkan by bringing the very materials out of which it will be built, and by bringing your full selves and your willing hearts to this sacred work. In other words, God is saying, “I cannot build your community for you. The power to build a just society that is infused with the power of My Presence is in your hands.”
Both our students and our Torah are sources of inspiration, reminding us that democracy, community, activism and civic participation are both the political and the spiritual ideals for which we strive as Jews, as Americans and as a Gann community.
Rabbi Marc Baker