11 January 2008
4 Shevat 5768
As I walked through our halls after school on Wednesday, I had the pleasure of speaking with many parents and students; I also had the pleasure of seeing parents and students meeting with their advisors, talking about students’ progress and their challenges, sharing thoughts and concerns, and most importantly, investing time in building a relationship that is core to our school’s mission. In the spirit of the long-standing Independent School tradition, our Advisory Program is designed to strengthen school culture and keep our community close by building mini-communities of students and teachers. It aims to ensure that, in the midst of our fast-paced school culture, every child is seen and no child slips through the cracks. I am proud that last year we began the practice of parent-student-advisor face-to-face meetings, and I thank all of our teachers as well as our parents and our students for their time and their openness to this process. As a faculty, we continue to prioritize the ongoing improvement of our Advisory Program by giving advisors guidance and training, by consciously structuring advisor group meeting times, and by preserving the regularity of these meetings. Student-teacher relationships are essential to what makes our community so special, and our partnership – between advisors, teachers and parents – is critical to the academic and social-emotional success and well-being of our students.
Every time I read this week’s parsha (Parshat Bo), I am amazed by Chapters 12 and 13 of Shemot (Exodus), in which the dramatic narrative of the ten plagues is interrupted just before its crescendo in order for God to introduce to Moshe the notion of Rosh Chodesh (the New Month, and the counting of time by months) and the mitzvot of Pesach (Passover). Clearly this is not a non-sequitur, since B’nei Yisrael are about to leave Egypt and experience the very first Passover; but, what fascinates me is that God steps out of the real time narrative in order to ritualize and codify the annual commemoration of the event of Yetziat Mitzraim (the coming out of Egypt) even before the event even happens. This is a masterful example of “social commemoration,” of the conscious construction of the collective memory of the Jewish People. Here we see another side of God. We see not God the Creator or God the Redeemer, but rather God the Master Educator, who understands that in order for Jewish history – in this case Yetziat Mitzraim, the birth of our nation – to live on in the lives and memories of future generations, they will need to pass on the experience from generation to generation by retelling and recreating the experience in concrete, comprehensive, and compelling ways.
It seems intuitive to me that history would precede memory, that we remember events from the past because they happened. But in this case it seems that memory precedes history. That is, the event itself (Yetziat Mitzraim) is about to happen not only for the benefit of the generation of Israelites in Egypt at the time, but because of the role that the memory of this event will play in the lives of future generations. As history, Yeztiat Mitzraim is the story of our past; as memory, it is also the story of our present and our future. It bears witness to God’s presence in history; it inspires faith and hope in the possibility of freedom and redemption; it is one of the foundational “reasons” for our commitment to ethics and social responsibility.
By linking history and memory so powerfully, the Biblical text teaches us that Yetziat Mitzraim was not only the birth of our nation; it was also the birth of Jewish education. God seems to be saying that there will be no experience of redemption without first giving Moshe, B’nei Yisrael, and us, as readers and future generations, the mandates of “zachor” – you shall remember, and of “v’higadta l’bincha” – you shall tell this, teach this, pass this on to your children year after year.
This is our charge, our mandate, as a school and as a Jewish community. I am proud that our shared commitment to Jewish high school education and to Gann Academy is one of the ways we fulfill this mitzvah. Together, may we continue to learn, to teach and to remember; and in doing so, may we keep our stories and the stories of our people alive and relevant for our own lives and the lives of our children.
Rabbi Marc Baker