7 December 2007
27 Kislev 5768
Last night, as the lights went out and I watched glowing rings, balls, and bowling pins whirling through the air in our black box theatre, I was both amazed at the talent of our juggling club and reminded of the energizing power of light in the midst of darkness. This seemed an especially appropriate way to open the Drama Club’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It during the week of Chanukah.
We have a tradition at Gann of celebrating Chanukah as a community through the arts, one of the most powerful avenues of human expression and an aspect of the Gann Academy educational experience of which we are proud. For the last twenty minutes of each day of Chanukah, our entire school gathers in the Dining Hall. The ceremony opens with a student artistic performance by one of our a capella or instrumental musical groups. Following this display of talent and spirit, a student – rotating by grade level each day – shares some personal reflections on Chanukah. This week, we heard about one student’s Chanukah memories of being with his grandfather who passed away; another student shared her love of the traditional Chanukah story despite her newly acquired historical consciousness about the complexity and the nuances of the “critical” historical account. It brings me great joy to listen to the harmonies of our talented singers, and even greater joy to watch as our entire community listens respectfully to one student’s personal story. The student concludes by lighting the Chanukah candles and leading a communal recitation of the blessings. The student has now both literally and figuratively lit our collective Chanukiah (Chanukah Menorah) and, in fact, transferred his light, her spark, to each of us.
The book A Different Light, a wonderful collection of Chanukah readings edited by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre, includes excerpts from The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s description of children as “lights within the exile.” He writes that “children perpetuate the golden chain of our people’s bond with the Torah and its mitzvot. This special quality of children,” he continues, “is also reflected in the very name of the festival, for Chanukah is also related to the word Chinuch, meaning “education.” It is written, (in Proverbs, as many of us studied together in a parent meeting earlier this year) ‘Educate (Chanoch) a child according to his way [so that] even when he grows older he will not depart from it.’ This points to the unique role of childhood in, and the effect it has on all stages of one’s life. It is the experience and training during one’s childhood which affects the entire life of a person. Therefore, when we see the excitement of children participating in this gathering, we are certain that this will be carried into all stages of their lives.”
I think that by “this gathering,” Rabbi Schneerson is referring to the communal celebration of Chanukah. But last night, as I watched our students’ passionate, creative, song-filled performance of As You Like It, it was clear that “this gathering” happens in many different ways at Gann Academy. Engaging discussions in the classroom, community-wide debates in the Beit Midrash, nail-biting games on the field or court, passion-filled performances in our Black Box Theatre – these “gatherings,” these educational experiences, truly “affect the entire life of the person” and “will be carried into all stages of their lives.”
I feel privileged to be inspired by our students’ passion and creativity as they thrive in various arenas of Jewish and human expression. I often feel overcome by both pride and emotion when I catch a glimpse of their glowing young souls on fire.
As we light the Chanukah candles, may we remind ourselves not only of the Chanukah story, but also of the power of educational experiences that are true “gatherings.” May we continue to create and celebrate opportunities for our students’ unique flames to burn bright – as individuals and in community – and, in the process, for their lives to be touched and transformed.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
Rabbi Marc Baker