10 December 2010
3 Tevet 5771
This week at Gann spoke volumes to our school-parent partnership. On Tuesday night we held our second annual Chanukah celebration in partnership with the Gann Parent Association (GPA). The celebration included students, parents, and entire families, as well as faculty and staff and their families. It is a way for us as a school to say thank you to our community and, especially, to our parents, who give so much of themselves to make it possible for their children to attend Gann.
Last night was the second of two “Teen Issues” parent meetings, also in partnership with the GPA and our special School-Parent Teen Issues Task Force. This organization has done incredible work in thinking and strategizing about how we, as an adult community, can address and educate ourselves and our students about teenage culture, risky behaviors, and the difficult choices our children must and will make. These are hard issues and challenging conversations for us to tackle together. As I said last night during the program, it is certainly easier as a school and as parents to believe that certain behaviors are not happening in our community, or, at least, not with my child; yet, they are, and, therefore, we must talk with each other about these issues. The conversation last night was rich, parent participation was high, and I came away with tremendous appreciation for the work we have done together and tremendous hope for the work that lies ahead.
As I think about how important it is for parents and educators to approach and engage with each other, I am drawn to the opening words of this week’s parsha, “Vayigash elav Yehuda – Then Yehuda approached him (Yoseph).” This word “vayigash – approached” is loaded with emotion and intensity, for Judah is about to offer his own life for his brother Benjamin’s in an impassioned plea that, ultimately, causes Joseph to break down and reveal himself to his brothers. The JPS Torah Commentary Etz Chaim quotes the Sefat Emet’s interpretation of vayigash elav as meaning that “‘Judah approached himself.’ He discovered who he really was . . .” (p.274)
In a beautiful and classically Hasidic psycho-emotional comment, Sefat Emet rereads the word elav (referring to the “him” who was approached) as referring to Yehuda himself rather than his brother Yosef. In doing so, he teaches us something profound about relationships and what it means to approach or encounter the other. When we take the risk and make ourselves vulnerable enough to truly engage someone openly and authentically, we, inevitably, must face ourselves openly and honestly, as well. For Yehuda, when he is finally able to do this, it is a transformational moment for him and his relationship with his brother.
This notion of vayigash, which I might translate as “deep approaching,” is at the heart of pluralism, for it is in our relationship with those who are different than we are, even those who sometimes threaten our sense of self, that we can grow into our fullest and best selves. This is also a model for building and sustaining a meaningful partnership between educators (school) and parents. My experiences this week are different models of the powerful ways that we in the Gann community approach each other, sometimes in joyous celebration, sometimes in supportive exploration, and sometimes in challenging conversation.
The relationships between the adults in our children’s lives and our willingness and ability to approach each other are essential for their education and their development as emerging young adults. I feel blessed to be in a community of parents and educators where so many of these relationships lead to learning and growth for all of us.
Rabbi Marc Baker