15 April 2011
11 Nisan 5771
We welcomed two different visitors to Gann this week and, in the spirit of the upcoming Pesach Seder, they reminded us in different ways that the questions we ask ourselves define our community.
On Wednesday our guest speaker was Nigel Savage, founder and director of Hazon, a Jewish organization dedicated to promoting a more healthy and sustainable Jewish community and world. Through education and powerful learning experiences such as bike rides and food conferences, Hazon introduces people to new ways of thinking about our relationship with our bodies and our world. Nigel challenged us to think not only globally but locally, reminding us that tikkun olam (repairing or improving the world) starts locally with tikkun atzmi (repairing or improving ourselves and our community). He left us with a question and a challenge: what concrete things can we do, as individuals and as a community, to make our lives and our school more healthy and sustainable?
On Thursday Gann hosted approximately 20 Israeli teenagers from Haifa as part of the JCC Diller Teen Fellows program, which brings together select groups of high school students in Israel and America to learn about pluralism, Jewish identity, leadership, and service. I spoke to the group about Gann’s pluralism and our philosophy of Jewish education, neither of which have many parallels in the Israeli educational system. I was impressed by the group’s level of engagement and their eagerness to learn more about American Jewish identity. Their questions generated some of our most meaningful exchanges and that challenged me to rearticulate the distinctions between American and Israeli Jewish identity. Two questions, especially, stood out. One young woman saw a poster of Hatikva (Israel’s national anthem) on the wall and asked, “Why do you sing our national anthem when you live in America?” A second student asked, “You seem to have so much in America and to be so fully integrated into American society. In light of this, why and how do you preserve your Jewish identity?”
In an effort to explain Gann’s educational approach, I told the students that, just as the Maggid section of the Passover Seder begins with the Four Questions, so, too, do deep learning and great education begin with students’ genuine questions. I shared my view that this applies to thoughtful and inspired Jewish identity development, as well. In the words of one Gann student who was in the room and who represents Gann as a Diller Teen Fellow, “What’s special about our school is that in our classes, it’s not only permitted to challenge beliefs and ask hard questions, but this is what our teachers want us to do.”
This was the rabbis’ vision of the Passover Seder, and this is Gann’s vision of Jewish education for the 21st century. If the next generation of Jewish leaders is going to take responsibility for our Jewish future, then, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, they will have to discover their authentic questions to which Judaism will be an answer for them.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker