12 March 2010
27 Adar 5770
My students tease me for using the word “community” too often. Some students are even skeptical of the whole concept of community. It’s not hard to understand why. Adolescence is a time of individualism and individuation, which, for many, include loneliness and alienation. Who could blame a teenager for rolling his eyes when his Rabbi/Head of School waxes on about some amorphous vision of community?
Curious about how widespread this skepticism might be, I began my sicha (morning discussion group) on Tuesday with a vision of community that appears at the beginning of this week’s parsha. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark Sokoll, President/CEO of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, for pointing out to me that this week’s parsha begins with a tikkun for last week’s idolatrous mob scene and the building of the golden calf: “Vayakhel Moshe – And Moshe convened/convoked/gathered the whole congregation of B’nei Yisrael . . .” (Exodus 35:1). Moshe calls together B’nei Yisrael for a purpose, to learn the laws of Shabbat and the instructions for the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). He relays God’s command that “kol nediv libo – each person whose heart so moves him or her” shall bring gifts for the building of the mishkan. If the golden calf is at the center of a fearful and faceless mob, the mishkan is at the center of thoughtful and deliberate individuals who come together with a common purpose. In the words of a 1976 speech from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik to Jewish communal professionals in Boston, which Rabbi Sokoll also shared with me, “Each individual possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to others; each individual has a unique message to communicate, a special color to add to the communal spectrum…He contributes something which no one else could have contributed.”
This is what community means to me, I shared with my sicha—individuals coming together because their hearts so move them, each person with his or her own passions, talents, questions, experiences, each on his or her own journey, yet united by a purpose, a reason for being, a shared journey that, paradoxically, preserves the individuality of each person and is larger than any one person.
“So, nu,” I asked my sicha, “do you think we at Gann are really a community, or is this just my fantasy?” Granted, their Head of School was in the room, and they are only a small representation of the student body, but I was moved and encouraged by their answers. “Community is the reason why people come to Gann,” one student said. “I think we are a community,” another explained, “because students choose to come here. As a Jewish school, we are all united by our Judaism, by a desire to explore who we are as Jews, or, at least, by our choice to be in a Jewish school.” My sicha pointed out that we are, essentially, a voluntary community. In my words, Gann is a ‘kol nediv libo” school. Once students make this choice, they come to school for a reason, a purpose, even if it is not at the forefront of their consciousness when they wake up each morning.
I am convinced that a profound, often unspoken sense of shared purpose among students, teachers, and staff underlies the meaningful bonds, deep relationships, and palpable sense of comfort and warmth that pervade our school. It is community and their sense that they are part of something much larger than themselves that ultimately empower our students to become the confident and self-actualized individuals who make this community so special.
Rabbi Marc Baker