18 May 2012
26 Iyar 5772
What an intense and uplifting week it has been at Gann!
On Wednesday approximately 130 guests visited our school for the annual Grandparents and Friends Day. As always, it was a morning overflowing with nachas as our students welcomed their grandparents or special friends into their tefillot, sichot, and classes, proudly giving them a glimpse of their school and their lives.
On Thursday night our Black Box Theater was filled with music and dance at our annual Spring Arts Festival. The attendance was great, the level of performance higher than I have ever seen it, and the level of energy and joy in the room was palpable. From the Israeli Dance Group to the Rock Band, students entertained the audience with confidence and presence. We saw two collaborative performances, one between the Chorus and the Chamber Ensemble and the other between ShenaniGanns (the a capella group) and the Israeli Dance Group. Both of these were performed to Jewish songs (one in Hebrew, one in English), illustrating the beautiful integration of art forms as well as the integration of our students’ identities as artists and as Jews. Yashar koach (way to go) to all of our student artists and to our dedicated and talented Arts faculty!
On Thursday afternoon I had a unique opportunity to live out three of my passions as I participated in the dedication of our new softball field. First, a group of students who were asked to sing the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikva invited me to join them because they needed an extra male voice. I eagerly accepted (I love to sing, especially a capella) and harmonized with my talented students on the pitcher’s mound to open the ceremony. I then shared some words of Torah and bracha (blessing) with the team and fans in honor of the occasion. Finally, I put on a team jersey and threw the symbolic first pitch. Singing, teaching Torah, and playing softball (at least symbolically), all within a few minutes’ time span – does the job of a Head of School get any better than that?
My blessing, or kavannah (intention) as I called it, for the field and our team was inspired by the first Mishnah of the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot that we read last Shabbat. This Mishnah contains Ben Zoma’s famous descriptions of character traits: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone . . . Who is strong/powerful? One who controls himself . . . Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot . . . Who is honorable/respected? One who respects others.” I pointed out that Ben Zoma takes each of these character traits and flips them on their head. Rather than wisdom or power or honor being about how much knowledge we can acquire, how much control we can assert over others, or how we are seen by others, Ben Zoma suggests that real wisdom, power, or honor are about what we do with these qualities and about how we relate to others and ourselves. Rather than try to be smarter than everyone, a wise person tries to learn from everyone. Rather than using his strength to put others down, the strong person uses his power to improve himself.
I suggested that these qualities but, more importantly, this way of thinking about character traits apply to sports, as well. Had the rabbis of our tradition been more involved in competitive sports (not that there isn’t a competitive dimension to Torah study!), Ben Zoma might have added the following: Who is victorious? Not one who ends the game with the most runs or points. Who is victorious? One who works hard and gives it her all, one who plays and acts like a mensch even during the heat of competition, one whose play and whose character bring out the best in her teammates, her opponents, and herself. This way of thinking about competition is what high school sports are really all about.
May our softball field be a home to many exciting future victories for Gann softball. And, more importantly, may this new field be a laboratory on which our students and their friendly competitors from other schools will learn and grow into the best athletes and the best people they can be.
Rabbi Marc Baker