Weekly Message 2-6-09

6 February 2009 
12 Shevat 5769 

Shalom Chaverim, 

An article in today’s online version of Haaretz describes a research paper’s findings that American Jews and Israelis “share strong and mutual feelings of solidarity” and feel equally connected to a “Jewish brotherhood.” Yet this research also suggests that “the emotional attachment that U.S. Jews have to Israel does not translate itself into willingness to act to strengthen this bond. The study emphasizes how challenging it can be to cultivate in our students a deep commitment to Klal Yisrael (the Jewish People) and to Israel. We can raise our students’ consciousness of and sense of connection to our people and to Israel. But our students also need the knowledge and motivation to translate their feelings of connection into action. We hope that our children will not merely maintain a passive, even if powerful, emotional connection to Judaism and the Jewish People; we also want them to become agents of their own ever-developing Jewish identities and active participants in Jewish culture and community.  

This week, our students experienced two models of Israel education that contributed to these educational goals. Monday morning, our students heard from a Gann parent who exemplifies the antithesis of this study’s findings. During the recent war in Gaza, he dropped everything and flew to Israel for a 36-hour mission to visit and express solidarity with the people of Sderot. Through his stories and his pictures, he helped our students better understand, both intellectually and emotionally, life in Sderot. He concluded his presentation with practical suggestions to our students about how they can educate themselves, stay involved, and take action to “strengthen their bond” with Israel. On Wednesday, in preparation for next week’s Israeli elections, members of our Junior class helped educate our whole school about the upcoming Israeli elections, and some of the essential political issues in Israel, through a mock political forum and role play of Israeli political candidates. Knowledgeable and engaging, the students passionately represented each political party and responded to faculty and student questions.  

Last night, our Beit Midrash was transformed from a center of Israel education earlier in the week to a concert hall, filled with the music and the readings of creative writing of our passionate and talented students. The arts and art education are core to Gann’s mission in part because few things simultaneously engage our heads, hearts and hands – our intellect, our emotions and our bodies – the way art can. Art can bring out the whole child, tap into students’ creative potential and allow them to process ideas and the world in new ways. Performance, as we saw last night, creates the opportunity for our students to pursue artistic excellence and to share their joy, their creativity, their talent, and their song with the rest of our community.  

Last night, in the middle of the cold, dark winter, our students’ spirits and energy lit up the school. From classical to blues to Jewish spiritual music, from well-known jazz standards to our students’ original compositions, from chorus and a capella to chamber ensemble to jazz band to vocal solos and instrumental duets, the music and the spirit were contagious. What more perfect week could there have been for our Winter Concert than the week of this Torah portion, Parshat Beshallach and the week of Shabbat Shirah (the Shabbat of Song)? This week, B’nei Yisrael escape Egypt through the dramatic parting of the sea. When they reach the other side, they immediately, almost organically, break into song – “Az Yashir Moshe u’B’nei Yisrael . . . Then Moshe and the children of Israel sang this song . . .” (Exodus 15:1) It is almost as if B’nei Yisrael do not choose to start singing, but rather erupt into song – music reflects the spontaneous, spiritual outpouring of emotions of relief, freedom, joy, wonder. In his commentary on the Torah called Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe writes that there are three types of song: song of the mind, song of the heart, and song of the body.” There are times when we choose to express something – thoughts, ideas, gratitude – through music (song of the mind); there are times when we feel something emotionally, and the way we express these feelings is through music (song of the heart); and, there are times when our whole body is moved, our whole being swept up in music (song of the body).  

Music can be an expression of joy, as we see in this week’s parsha; but, it also inspires and evokes joy, as we experienced last night. As I think about these three types of song, I have the vivid image in my mind of the Beit Midrash, full of adoring audience members standing up, clapping and dancing along with the music. Our students did more than entertain us; they, quietly literally, moved us – our minds, our hearts and our bodies. I want to express tremendous gratitude to our Arts Department faculty, to our student performers and to our parents for their support and passion for the arts. May we continue to create opportunities for our students’ artistic talent and potential to thrive; and, especially on this Shabbat Shirah, may we continue to be inspired by the joy of music and song.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker 

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