20 November 2009
3 Kislev 5770
This week has been a whirlwind. On Tuesday night, surrounded by 70 of Gann’s closest friends and supporters at our annual Hillel Society event, I shared the news of the historic gift that has instantaneously transformed our school. Following my announcement, Rabbi Harold Kushner gave a moving and inspiring talk based on his new book, Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World. Rabbi Kushner’s capacity to weave together Biblical stories and themes with real life stories and events always illuminates Judaism’s messages and relevance for our lives. Reflecting on many of the issues that cause people fear and anxiety, he suggested that, perhaps, what terrifies us most is fear of rejection.
Rejection, he suggested, whether in a professional, romantic, or other kind of relationship, can threaten one’s humanity by calling into question one’s reason for being, one’s usefulness in the world. In times when we feel rejected (or judged), we need relationships with people who care about us and value us in order to maintain and restore our dignity, to reaffirm our self-worth. In essence, relationships are redemptive. Today, as I read this weeks Parsha (Toldot) in light of these insights, I was almost moved to tears by Esav’s “very great and bitter cry out” – “vayitzak tz’akah gedolah u’marah at meod” (Genesis 27:34) – upon hearing that his father gave Esav’s blessing to Yaakov his brother. What greater rejection is there than the rejection of a parent, something that recurs all too often in the Book of Genesis? “Bless me, also me, my father,” Esav begs, desperately seeking to maintain their relationship and his identity. One cannot help but wonder whether anything his father said or did would have mattered by that point.
But on Tuesday night, as I listened to Rabbi Kushner speak after I made my emotional celebratory announcement, I confess I was not thinking about Esav or Yaakov. Rather, I was thinking about the connections between Rabbi Kushner’s message and how moved and emotional I felt all evening. Sitting in the room with me was a range of people, from Gann’s (actually “New Jew’s”) founders and original visionaries to new parents and Board members, from Gann grandparents to members of our professional leadership team. For so many Heads of School, it is lonely “at the top.” Yet, I am blessed to be surrounded and inspired by colleagues, friends, partners, and supporters whose belief in our mission, whose passion and work ethic, whose dedication to our students and to each other lift me up.
Early the next morning, I left for Israel to bring home 35 members of our junior class who have spent the trimester in Israel. When I finally arrived on the Alexander Muss campus after a full day of meetings in Haifa, any exhaustion I felt was quickly replaced by our students’ energy and enthusiasm. Moved as always by their warm reception, I gained a glimpse into their world here and into the relationships they have formed with each other. Once again, I was reminded of Rabbi Kushner’s message: during the adolescent years which can be so lonely, alienating, and scary for a child, Gann nurtures and provides a community of peers who strive to include rather than exclude, who value rather than reject, who see and honor rather than stifle and silence each individual’s authentic self.
When I watch our students together, both in Israel and each day at school, and see the profound joy on their faces, I know that we are living out this vision and feeling of community at Gann.
Rabbi Marc Baker