27 August 2010
17 Elul 5770
After two months of summer planning and rejuvenation, our faculty and staff returned this week for an intense week of learning and preparation. One of the most inspiring moments for me occurred on Monday morning, when I had the privilege of welcoming our dynamic cohort of new faculty. I invited them to read and respond to Gann’s mission statement:
Gann Academy – the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston is a pluralistic day school committed to providing a challenging, nurturing, and inspiring education that integrates intensive Jewish studies with the sciences and the humanities. It was founded on the conviction that Jewish day school education during the adolescent years is crucial for developing Jews who will be knowledgeable, sophisticated, and passionate about Judaism and who will make lasting contributions to the Jewish community, American society, and the world at large.
“Think about where you’ve come from, your past experiences as teachers and learners, and what has brought you here to Gann,” I instructed them. “Now please read our mission statement a few times and allow yourselves to be drawn to a word or phrase that speaks to you, resonates with you, or challenges you.” Their incredible responses taught me a great deal—both about them and about our school.
One teacher chose the word “integrates” because, as she shared with us, in her past experiences with Jewish schools, she has found the “Jewish” and “secular” sides of the school bifurcated, while she believes that Gann strives to weave together all aspects of our students’ learning into a more holistic experience. A second teacher chose the words “knowledgeable, sophisticated, and passionate,” noting that, while in the mission statement they are followed by “about Judaism,” she wants her students not only to be knowledgeable about science, but also sophisticated and passionate about science and the role it can play in their lives. A third teacher (of English) shared that he has never taught in a religious school before and that he was impressed by our students when he taught his sample lesson last year, which attracted him to teach at Gann. “We were studying The Great Gatsby, and, within minutes, the students framed the character’s issues in terms of ethical dilemmas. In other schools where I’ve taught, I’ve had to spend a day or two introducing the concepts of ethics and ethical dilemmas. But to these Gann students, this was second nature. I am excited about teaching in a school where looking at texts and the world through the lens of values and ethics is core to our mission.”
Listening to our new teachers, I was filled with a sense of joy and optimism that they already seem to understand what Gann is all about. They have chosen to teach here, now, because they want to be part of our unique institution at this incredible time in our journey as a school. There is a beautiful line in this week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, when Moshe summons B’nei Yisrael and tells them (to paraphrase): You have seen it all. You have seen the wonders that God did in Egypt, and you have been there first hand during our people’s formative journey through the desert. “Yet,” Moshe says, “v’lo natan Hashem lachem lev lada’at, einaim lir’ot v’oznaim lishmoa ad hayom hazeh – God has not given you a heart/mind to understand, eyes to see or ears to hear until today.” (Deuteronomy 29:3)
This line is particularly relevant for us as it captures the spiritual and existential power of transition and transformation. There are moments in our lives and our learning when we suddenly can look at our past experiences and at the knowledge we have acquired and see them in an entirely new light. It is not that our past perceptions and understandings were wrong; rather, we have gained new insight, new capacity to make sense of our journey, of our world, and our place in it. In some miraculous way, there is no way we could have understood this ad hayom hazeh – until this very day, until this very moment. There is something about new beginnings and profound moments of transition that can open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts to new ways of thinking, of being, and of understanding. And, these moments bring with them opportunities to identify or clarify who we aspire to be and what we aspire to accomplish in the future.
Listening to our new teachers’ reflections on Gann’s mission and their hopes for their teaching and their students’ learning opened me up to understanding our school and our mission more deeply and in new ways. May we all begin the school year with open eyes, ears, minds, and hearts; and when we do this, let us not be surprised if we have moments when we realize that only now, bayom hazeh, can we truly appreciate what the Gann experience is all about.
Rabbi Marc Baker