14 March 2008
7 Adar II, 5768
It has been an exciting and intense week for our community. This morning we embark on diverse journeys of exploration – from a civil rights “march” through the South, to stargazing in Arizona, to local and national Tikkun Olam projects, to an array of creative seminars here at Gann. Our faculty, led by our Experiential Education Team, has worked passionately and tirelessly to create educational experiences that will be engaging, out of the box, and relevant to our students’ interests and their lives. As we enter Exploration Week, which will lead up to next week’s communal celebration of Purim, our energy and our creativity are high . . . let the exploration begin!
Today we are filled with excitement as we break into our mini-learning communities of Exploration Week; but on Monday, we began our week unified, in solemn identification with our family in Israel, as we acknowledged the killing of eight Yeshiva students from the Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem, which occurred one week ago yesterday. We mourned together for the eight students, most of whom were the same age as our students, and who were killed while they were, like us, in school. We paused as a community for a recitation of a Psalm, the singing of Hatikva, and a moment of silence, before which I asked our students to contemplate our connection to and identification with the Jewish People and the State of Israel, not only in times of joy and celebration, but also in times of immense pain and suffering.
I am grateful to Rabbi Lehmann, our founding Headmaster, who reminded me this week that “when something so terrible happens to our people, especially when the victims are high school students, I think that we must interrupt the regular flow of the day to focus the collective attention of our school on such a profound tragedy. We must teach our students how we, as Jews, should respond to the pain and suffering of our family. . .” These words remind me not only of our Jewish educational mission, but also of this week’s special Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor (The Shabbat of Remembering).
On the Shabbat before Purim, we read a special maftir (the last reading from the Torah) from the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), chapters 25:17-19, in which the Torah commands us to “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you came out of Egypt . . . how he fell upon you on the way and cut down all the stragglers . . . you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek . . . you shall not forget.” This mitzvah and these lines of Torah are difficult to understand. They are full of concepts with which we must struggle: the notion of Amalek, eternal archenemy of Israel and symbol of evil in the world; the mitzvah to “wipe out the remembrance of Amalek”; and the mitzvah to zachor (remember), which recurs throughout the Torah and is at the heart of the Jewish tradition.
Despite the textual and ethical complexities of this text and these mitzvot, however, one thing is clear: the remembering and the transmission of memory that form our collective identity and that are core to our mission as Jewish educators and as parents are not limited to the stories and joyous memories of freedom from Egypt or a victory over Haman. In order for our children and ourselves to feel a deep and sustained identification with Klal Yisrael (the Jewish People), we must laugh, sing, dance and celebrate together; but, we must also mourn together and cry together.
This Sunday, two of my former students (high school sweethearts) from The Weber School in Atlanta are getting married, and I will have the honor of concluding the ceremony by singing “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim (If I forget You, Jerusalem)” under the chuppah (www.greatjewishmusic.com/Midifiles/Im%20Eshkachech.htm). Even at a wedding, the most profound of smachot (celebratory, happy occasions), we remember the brokenness of our world and the suffering of our people, and we “lift Jerusalem above our greatest joy.”
So too at Gann and in our Jewish communities, may our lives and our educational experiences be filled with the joy and celebration of study and rituals, history, community, and the existence of the State of Israel; but may we also take the time to zachor – to remember, stay conscious of, and identify with the pain and suffering that we have experienced throughout our history and that is still alive and real today for our people – our family throughout the world and in the State of Israel.
Rabbi Marc Baker