25 May 2012
4 Sivan 5772
As the academic year winds down, each week is packed with events. On Tuesday night we celebrated the 2011-2012 school year at our Annual Meeting, where we honored our outgoing Board president, Elizabeth Jick, and heard an engaging talk about higher education from Brandeis president, Fred Lawrence. On Wednesday night students from our two Robotics teams and their parents enjoyed a celebratory dinner in honor of their successful season and all they have accomplished in just two short years. And then last night our talented students entertained the Gann community at Playhem, the 10th annual performance of one-act plays produced, directed, and performed entirely by students.
Particularly memorable for me was Wednesday’s Limud Clali (community learning), which marked the return of our founding headmaster and one of my personal mentors, now Hebrew College president Rabbi Danny Lehmann. In preparation for Shavuot, Rabbi Lehmann engaged the community by asking us to interpret the significance of various symbols, including the seals of the State of Israel and the United States. He showed us the Magen David, the Star of David, perhaps the most widespread symbol of Judaism and the Jewish People, and challenged us to consider his claim that the star is not, in fact, the best symbol for our People. Instead, he suggested that we should adopt and propagate as our national and religious symbol the image of the two tablets on which the 10 Commandments are written because our symbols should be linked to our core values and commitments.
This symbol is particularly significant to Rabbi Lehmann because of a midrash (rabbinic commentary) that he shared with us in which a majority of rabbinic opinion suggests that, instead of the usual representation of five commandments on each tablet, in fact, all 10 commandments were written on both of the two tablets. He interprets this as a statement of the rabbis’ theological pluralism. In Rabbi Lehmann’s words, it teaches us that “God’s word cannot be captured by one set of ideas or perspectives. At the root of our Jewish experience is an experience of God’s pluralism.”
This teaching alone was inspiring and offered important food for thought, especially as we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah. Yet, two other moments moved me and illustrated the power of Rabbi Lehmann’s presentation. The first was when a student challenged him during the Q&A and asked, “You’ve suggested that the 10 Commandments should be our national Jewish symbol, but what about Jews who don’t believe in God, or don’t keep the Sabbath? Wouldn’t this exclude them?” I was impressed by this student’s question and even more by Rabbi Lehmann’s response. Instead of responding with an answer or defense, he modeled the kind of intellectual and spiritual engagement that he preaches. He responded, “You know, you might be right. Maybe for this reason, the Star of David would be a better symbol. I need to think more about it.”
After his talk, when the line of students asking questions or making comments waned, I observed one last student waiting to say something. The student shook Rabbi Lehmann’s hand and said, “You know, I sometimes don’t feel completely comfortable at Gann because of my religious beliefs. You helped me understand why I have a place here.”
What a pleasure it was to watch a new generation of students learning Torah from Gann Academy’s original teacher and leader. May his founding vision continue to evolve and inspire us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker