7 May 2010
23 Iyar 5770
Gann Academy was honored to welcome a “rock star” to our school this week. That’s what it seemed like as students surrounded our special guest speaker Tuesday morning, eager to ask just one more question about his life, his world view, and his indomitable spirit. Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the members of the “Little Rock Nine” who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas (http://www.facinghistory.org/about/who/profiles/dr-terrence-roberts), was barraged with questions from our students. And some students who had recently learned about him and his impact in history even asked him to autograph their AP US History review books on the page that described the history he himself made. To them, Dr. Roberts is a rock star of history.
In addition to the stories, life lessons, and palpable charisma with which he engaged our students, Dr. Roberts’ very presence inspired our community. I introduced him as someone who not only lived through profound events in the history of our country but who also, through his actions and his courage, shaped our history and changed our world. Dr. Roberts’ appearance at Gann was a result of our ongoing partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, an organization whose mission and vision Dr. Roberts himself embodies. Among the many inspiring speakers and stories heard at last week’s Facing History’s annual dinner, one comment struck me as particularly relevant to Dr. Roberts’ life and to Gann’s mission. To paraphrase: “History is not something that just happens to us. It is we who create history through our actions and with every choice we make in our lives.”
As I sat mesmerized by Dr. Roberts’ description of his life’s experiences, I found myself drawn to the first word of the last parsha of Vayikra (Leviticus), which we read this Shabbat: “Im – If.” The line reads, “Im bechukotai telechu v’et mitzvotai tishmoru v’asitem otam . . . if you follow my laws and observe my commandments and fulfill them, then I will give rains in their season. . .” (Lev.26:3) The parsha explains the ways we will be rewarded if we follow the mitzvot and the punishments or negative consequences we will receive if we do not. While this parsha introduces the classical Biblical theology of reward and punishment, it is not the theology that spoke to me during Dr. Roberts’ talk; rather, that opening word, “Im – If” was enlarged, flashing before me in neon lights.
Theology aside, this word bestows upon all of us opportunity, empowerment, and responsibility. Every moment in life is a choice, every situation is a crossroads. If we choose to live with integrity, to learn from our past, to stand up for what we believe in, then the world will become a different place because of us. And if we choose to stand by, not to act, or even worse, to act immorally, then the world will still become a different place because of us. Our actions are never neutral. For better and for worse, we are the makers and creators of history, the repairers, or, God forbid, the destroyers of our world.
Dr. Roberts is a rock star not because he appears in history books but because he has lived his life with agency and intentionality, with humility about how we are all shaped by our history, and with confidence and conviction that, with every choice he makes, he is making history. May Dr. Roberts’ story and his life inspire all of us to enlarge the “Im – If” in our lives, to raise our consciousness about our choices and our actions, and to see every moment as an opportunity for us to positively transform our world.
Rabbi Marc Baker