7 March 2008
30 Adar 1, 5768
Last night, I was glowing with pride and full of emotion as I watched our drama club’s production of Steven Sondheim’s complex and challenging musical, Into the Woods. It was the perfect bookend for a week that began for me last motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), when I was awestruck by the musical talent and sheer energy of our a capella groups at our school’s benefit concert, at which five different groups from the Greater Boston community performed in front of three hundred people, and at which one Gann student’s passion for a cause helped raise almost $4,000 to help underprivileged children in El Salvador afford a high school education.
These are amazing moments for me as Head of School and for our community. After watching the play last night, my wife shared with me that she had a realization. She saw the faces of the parents of one of the actresses watching their daughter on stage and “felt overwhelmed by the joy they must have felt; they were watching their daughter, a senior in high school, who has worked so hard for so many years, shine.” My wife added, “you talk about creating an environment in which students will thrive, a high school experience in which they can ‘live life to the fullest,’ and tonight I got it, I witnessed it, and I really understand what you mean.”
After last week’s a capella concert, I was talking to a parent about how incredible our students’ performance was, and she said, “What do you think this is all about? Is it possible that we simply have more talented students here than in other schools?” I responded that I would really like to believe this is the case! But then she offered a different hypothesis: “I think I understand it. I think it is because our students are so happy here.” Her explanation (or at least my interpretation of it) makes perfect sense to me. Our students’ general sense of happiness elevates the quality and the energy of their performances to a higher level. The quality of a performance in any context, after all, is about more than the talent of the performers, the coaching and direction, or even how hard the performers work; there is an x-factor to any performance: how brightly the souls of the performers shine.
It seems appropriate that this parent shared her happiness theory with me last motzei Shabbat, for today and as we enter Shabbat, it is Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the second month of Adar), the month in which Purim falls, and the month during which our tradition expects us to “marbim b’simcha” – to increase our simcha, our happiness, our joy. This month of Adar is characterized by simcha, and in many ways so too is the essence of our school.
Many of our students work long, hard hours, dedicating themselves fully and tirelessly to school work and other activities, striving for excellence and pursuing their passions, filling their days with meetings, practices, rehearsals and friends. High school can be intense, and at times overwhelming (for all of us!). But then again, so too is “real life.” Many kids in many schools (and many adults as well) seek moments of happiness through avoidance and escape from the pressures of day-to-day life. After all, we all need vacation sometimes. But the simcha I saw on stage last night and last week, the simcha that I feel when I walk through our halls, when I see a group of 50 students sitting in a locker pod singing Shlomo Carlebach songs on a Friday morning, is a deeper and more sustaining communal emotion that pervades and elevates everything we do. At Gann, I feel a simcha that is not a refrain from work, but rather the result of hard work; not an escape from day-to-day life, but rather a simcha of living life to the fullest.
As we enter the month of Adar 2 with Purim two weeks away, may we strive to expand and increase our simcha, as individuals and as a community. And may our spirits be lifted by the energy, the joy, and the shining souls of those around us, as mine was by our a capella group last week, and by the cast and crew of Into the Woods last night.
Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Marc Baker