May 2, 2008
27 Nissan 5768
The first week back from Passover break is always intense, with palpable excitement and energy in the air. Spring is truly here (despite bursts of cold weather) and its light literally fills our building and lifts up our souls. With improved weather, spring sports are fully underway; seniors have begun their internships and independent studies; this morning, our incoming freshman class will spend its first day together at Gann; momentum toward the end of the school year is picking up; and students and faculty have begun to envision and plan for next year. Fresh off the heels of the Passover holiday, the rhythm of our community for the next several weeks is punctuated by the time period we have entered that we affectionately call “the yoms” – the “days,” referring to the holidays of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and Victims of Terror), Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).
During the next two weeks, we will interrupt our regular school routine in order to commemorate and celebrate as a community these yoms, and the profound modern Jewish experiences that they represent. As I shared with our faculty at our meeting this week, these days do break up the rhythm of our academic weeks and at times can be challenging for classroom teachers – such is the experience of teaching and learning in a Jewish high school! These days and the special programs associated with them are not distractions from our students’ learning; on the contrary, coming together as a community to hear stories of our students’ visits to concentration camps in Eastern Europe, to listen to the personal narrative of a local Holocaust survivor, to acknowledge and mourn for the Israeli youths (not much older than our students) who have given their lives to defend our homeland, to celebrate the euphoria of hakamat Medinat Yisrael (the formation, and the continued existence, of the State of Israel) – these experiences are, in fact, what learning at Gann is all about.
On Passover, we tell our story in order to link ourselves and our children with our collective Jewish past and our collective hopes for the future. On the yoms, we come together as a community to experience our collective present and to link ourselves and our children with klal Yisrael (the Jewish People). Every day at Gann we provide students with learning opportunities and experiences – in and out of the classroom – that aim to inspire and empower our students to construct meaningful personal identities as Jews and as human beings. But what is so powerful about our mission and the mission of Jewish education is that our students do not construct their identities in a vacuum, merely as individuals unbound to history or community. Rather, we hope that our graduates feel bound to live in serious dialogue with the Jewish tradition, history, family, Jewish community and the Jewish People.
One of the ways we achieve this mission is by offering our students the experience of zman kadosh (holy time). It conveys a powerful message to a Modern American Jewish teenager that even our rigorous high school schedule beats to a Jewish rhythm. The experience of living in holy time brings Judaism and the experience of being Jewish to life for our students in meaningful and relevant ways.
In addition to the experience of holy time, we inspire and shape our students’ Jewish identities by giving them the experience of, in the spirit of this week’s Torah portion (Parshat Kedoshim), kehillah kedoshah (holy community). We stop our regular routine in order to come together, to remember together, to mourn together, to sing together, to dream together, even just to be together, in community. In the context of commemorating or celebrating Jewish events and experiences, our students experience what so many Americans desperately long for: connection – authentic relationships with their classmates, their teachers, the broader Jewish community and the entire Jewish People. Powerful connections and meaningful relationships transform us, and when they are experienced in a Jewish context, shape the Jewish lens through which we see and experience the world.
Over these next few weeks, may we commemorate and celebrate together, feeling and connecting with the lows and highs of our people; and may we appreciate and be moved by powerful experience of zman kadosh (holy time) in kehillah kedoshah (holy community).
Rabbi Marc Baker