16 April 2010
2 Iyyar 5770
I began my week with a unique privilege. Monday was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), on which four different Holocaust survivors visited Gann to tell their stories to our students. After they spoke, they joined me in my office, along with two educators from Facing History and Ourselves, one Gann parent, and one Gann teacher, all of whom helped to coordinate their visit. I have met, listened to, and been moved by the stories of survivors on many occasions, but it was an entirely different experience to sit in a room on Yom HaShoah while four survivors bantered, reminisced, and shared their experiences with each other. I felt like I was in the presence of and bearing witness to the spirit of an entire generation.
I asked everyone in the room what they hoped our students would take away from their stories. Interestingly, two different answers emerged. The first reply, consistent with the vision and philosophy of Facing History, was the hope that our students would learn valuable life lessons, such as when to stand up in the face of moral wrongdoing or how laughter and humor can help one transcend even an unbearable physical situation. The Gann parent beautifully articulated the second answer, commenting that while he, too, values the lessons our students learned from the survivors’ stories, the power of the experience is in actually meeting the survivors and hearing their stories. Time is running out for our students’ generation to develop personal relationships with Holocaust survivors and to hear their stories firsthand. Simply being in the presence of these heroic and inspiring individuals can give our students a keen perspective that will make them unique transmitters of these stories for generations to come.
On Wednesday, I enjoyed a second privilege that combined these two different approaches into a powerful principle of Jewish education. I was honored to address nearly 100 grandparents and special friends who spent the morning attending classes with their grandchildren and joining our student body for a guest lecture from Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Reflecting on the meaning of Grandparents and Special Friends Day and why their presence in our community, even for just one morning, is critical to Gann’s educational mission, I shared a quote from Rabbi David Hartman’s book, A Heart of Many Rooms. Hartman describes the importance of intergenerational relationships in the Jewish tradition:
The parent (and I would add grandparent or special friend) imparts information while creating an environment that embodies moral and spiritual values. Values are transmitted not only through formal learning but also through the living, intimate community of the family. The danger of formal education is that the student may perceive a gap between life and learning.
The presence of grandparents and special friends completes our students’ Gann education by closing the loop between learning and living. There is no more powerful message for the next generation than authentic relationships with grandparents who model values of and commitments to family and community that we strive to teach our students everyday.
For me, this quote also offers a synthesis of the two approaches that we discussed in my office on Monday morning. Stories teach us important lessons and values that help us navigate the world. Equally powerful is the very presence of the people who tell those stories and model those values. May our relationships with all of our special visitors this week continue to inspire each and everyone of us
Rabbi Marc Baker