26 February 2010
13 Adar 5770
Our first week back from February break has been an intense and exciting one, with activities including final games of the winter sports season, end of the trimester arts presentations, Wednesday’s Facing History and Ourselves Limud Clali program about public religious identification in France, and today’s Purim festivities.
All week I keep coming back to one of the essential spiritual and psychological themes of Purim and how this theme plays out at Gann Academy: “Nahafoch hu – and it was turned (upside down)/and the opposite happened” (Book of Esther 9:1). In the Book of Esther, this phrase refers to the reversal of the evil decree to wipe out the Jews and the empowerment of the Jews to rule over their enemies. On a spiritual or psychological level, nahafoch hu also alludes to the possibility that the world is not always as it seems. For example, God’s name does not appear in the Purim story, hinting to us that God is present if not always readily apprehensible in our world.
On a more personal level, our true selves are often hidden from view, either because we consciously choose not to reveal who we really are or because we are too busy striving to be what everyone else thinks we should be. Purim and nahafoch hu represent, at least, the temporary possibility that what is hidden can be revealed, that we can express our true selves.
High school is often a place where students hide significant parts of themselves, whether because of social pressures, teenage norms, or the complexities of working out their adolescent identities. However, yesterday I was nearly moved to tears and reminded that one of the most special things about Gann is that students are encouraged and supported to take off their masks, to explore their identities, and to become themselves.
The end-of-the-trimester arts show opened with performances by students from the Modern Dance class. All of the students displayed grace, creativity, and courage as they performed self-choreographed, interpretive dances in pairs and trios. I was particularly struck by the first dancers—two eleventh grade boys moving and dancing together. With fluidity and dignity they moved around the theater—on the floor and through the air—supporting each others’ bodies and interacting physically in ways that displayed comfort and trust in themselves and each other. Most meaningful to me was that these teenage boys trusted their peers, the audience, enough to break free of the expectations of high school boy masculinity and to publicly explore their creativity and their world through the lens of movement.
Our community watched and experienced the transformative power of nahafoch hu, made possible by both remarkable teachers who inspire and nurture this kind of courage, exploration, and self-expression, and by remarkable students, who are comfortable and confident enough to take these kinds of risks. This is why the arts are such a central part of a Gann education, and, more broadly, this is what Gann Academy is all about.
May the holiday of Purim and moments like these inspire all of us to take risks, to uncover and to express the selves that we are and the selves that we can become.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker