29 October 2010
21 Cheshvan 5771
Surrounded by colleagues, I spent this week deeply engaged in the challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish Day School field. During the first half of the week, I attended the PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) conference, where over 1,000 professional and lay leaders, foundation representatives, donors, and other communal professionals from around the country and the world gathered to think big about the future of our schools and the Jewish People. We learned with and from each other, as well as from outside experts in areas such as data management, marketing and social media, and leadership. One of the questions at the forefront of the conference and on the top of PEJE’s strategic agenda was about sustainability. How can we ensure that our schools continue not only to survive, but also to thrive and grow? How can we strengthen our missions and expand our visions to meet the needs of our communities and adapt to changing realities, while staying anchored in the core values and principles of Judaism? How can we best support, both educationally and financially, the people who make our communities so strong – our parents, students and teachers? And, how can we reach out to those who do not yet know how inspired they will be by our schools once they walk through our doors?
After three intense days of wrestling with these and other critical questions, I then attended the conference for alumni of the Pardes Educators Program and the DeLeT (Day School Leadership through Teaching) programs. These two programs were started about 10 years ago in response to the growing number of Jewish day schools in North America and their need for talented, knowledgeable, and passionate teachers of Jewish and general studies. The conference brought together alumni of these programs who are currently teaching in Jewish day schools for professional development, inspiration, and rejuvenation. Remarkably, over the past 10 years, these programs have combined to add hundreds of teachers in our North American Jewish day schools!
How appropriate that the Pardes-DeLeT Retreat followed on the heels of the PEJE Conference! Thankfully, these two programs, along with the visionary foundations that support them, understand that one critical answer to the sustainability question is the quality of education we provide to our students. It is our teachers in all disciplines who most profoundly shape our students’ experiences, both in and out of the classroom. We know that students learn best and most from teachers who themselves are learning and growing. I am proud of Gann’s ongoing partnership with these two programs.
As I read this week’s Torah and Haftarah portions, especially in light of this week’s two conferences, the word and theme that stands out most to me is: legacy. In the immediate aftermath of his wife Sarah’s death, Abraham, no doubt filled with sadness and distress, makes a huge investment in a burial place for him and his family to ensure that his future generations will have a place in the land that God promised them. Then, as his own days come to an end, he instructs his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac from his own family, his own People. Although Abraham had it all (“God had blessed him in all things”), he turned his focus to the continuity of his family line, the fulfillment of the other promise God had made to him. In the Haftarah as well, as King David’s life comes to an end, he and those around him concern themselves with which of his sons would succeed him. When David reaffirms that he will fulfill his promise and that Shlomo (Solomon) will reign after him, Bat Sheva (Shlomo’s mother) bows to him and says, “Yechi adoni hamelech David l’olam – May my lord king David live forever.” To me, this is not a wish for David to live forever literally, but rather an affirmation that, in fulfilling his promise to her, David solidifies his legacy. He will live on through the leadership of his son Shlomo.
One of the most powerful and compelling cases for Jewish day school education is legacy. Those of us who feel a connection to our Jewish past and whose lives are enriched by our Jewish communities and our Jewish identities need to invest in the Jewish future. A recent study of young Jewish leaders throughout the Jewish world found that 40% of them attended Jewish day schools. When our schools provide transformative experiences for our students, they will sustain and transform the Jewish People.
I am inspired by our parents’ and students’ commitment to educational excellence and our Jewish future. I am grateful for our donors’ and community’s unwavering support for Gann Academy and for Jewish day schools, in general. And I am proud of the passion and talent of our faculty, whose love of teaching is the heart and soul of our Jewish high school education. Together, we are leaving our legacy.
Rabbi Marc Baker