6 March 2009
10 Adar 5769
As we began the third trimester this week, you can feel a transitional energy in school. Still exhausted from the end of the second trimester and drained by the darkness of winter, our students and teachers are turning the corner toward the longer, brighter days of spring, the anticipation of the final third of the year, and the energizing experiences of the coming weeks. This week, our student body elected a new student council to work with them and for them, and to represent them in the coming year. Our Drama Club’s production of Seussical The Musical opened last night and will fill our black box theater with song, dance and joy throughout the weekend. And, everyone is eagerly preparing for next Tuesday’s celebration of Purim and the start of Exploration Week next Friday.
Purim feels particularly poignant this year. Its themes of a “nahafoch hu” – of a world turned upside down, things not being as they seem – and of “hester panim (God hiding God’s face)” – a feeling of chaos and randomness in a world that seems to lack the Divine presence and therefore Divine order – resonate strongly right now. The familiar Jewish story of being acted upon by an indifferent and unpredictable tyrant plays itself out for so many in our world, and Haman takes many forms, such as disease, unemployment, depression. As we read this Shabbat Zachor about Amalek, who attacks the Israelites from behind in the desert, we acknowledge the human experience of evil, of feeling sabotaged, acted upon, randomly attacked and helpless in the world. Few things are more disconcerting, more anxiety provoking, or more frightening than the chaos of not knowing, of losing control, of realizing how little control we actually have. How many people would like to put on masks and escape into a different reality this year?
Judaism honors this human experience yet paradoxically affirms, even commands, human autonomy and agency. The Purim story represents the human capacity to overcome adversity, transform our world and shape history. Faith in the strength of human beings, and faith that God is with us despite how far away God sometimes feels, can counteract fear, give us the courage to weather the anxiety of not-knowing, and the strength to keep learning, fighting, and creating even small changes in our world. The Purim story also encourages us to believe that seemingly small but courageous human decisions and individual acts of selflessness and chesed can bring about dramatic change and tikkun (repair) in history and the world.
Although I will not see Seussical The Musical in its entirety until Sunday afternoon, I sense that Dr. Seuss too touches upon this paradox of human experience. Horton feels “all alone in the universe . . . no one notices anything, not one person is listening.” Yet, Horton sings, “I have wings, yes I can fly,” and Jo-Jo sings, “It’s possible, anything’s possible.” So many high school students feel alone in the universe, and, especially now, so many “grown-ups” can identify with this loneliness, insecurity and anxiety as well. Sometimes it can feel like our wings have been clipped; or worse, we can forget or lose faith that we have wings at all.
One of the most special things about Gann, and perhaps an example of why people need community now more than ever, is our mission to unleash and develop each student’s “one small voice in the universe” (also sung by Horton). We want our students to graduate knowing that they have wings and the confidence to fly, even in a world of unpredictable weather patterns and turbulent skies.
I am thankful that when I come to work each day, I am lifted up by the cacophony of our students’ voices – by their talents, passions and creativity, by their energy and their ideas, by their learning and their leading. As we “grown-ups” face the fears and anxieties of our unpredictable lives, we can certainly draw strength and inspiration from watching our children soar.
Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker