May 30, 2008
25 Iyar 5768
As we rush to the finish line of the school year, you can feel the energy in the air at Gann. It is a perfect mixture of anticipation of finishing the year (and of summer vacation, of course!), stress around how much work we all have left to do (and how little time we have left to do it!), and the natural elation of breathing in the warmth and sunshine that stream through our windows and fill the school with summer light. You can also feel the energy of transition – a heightened communal consciousness that our year is coming to an end – as we stop to reflect and mark ceremonially what we have experienced and accomplished in what I call our micro-communities: classes, minyans, sports teams, performing groups, clubs, even groups of friends. It is often in these smaller communities formed around shared passions, commitments and experiences that students and faculty have their most profound experiences of what community – and what Gann – is all about.
Few mediums express this message more powerfully than our annual sports banquet which took place this past Wednesday night. Hundreds of people – students, parents, teachers, coaches, alumni and friends of the school – filled the dining hall to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of our sports teams and players this year. It was a banner year for Gann athletics, with twenty competitive interscholastic teams, four league championships, the number of students who participated on teams, and a staff of coaches that was perhaps the strongest Gann has ever known. But what was most powerful about the banquet was how the coaches and players described their experience in Gann athletics.
Students and coaches, Jews and non-Jews alike, quoted Biblical verses and referred to the teachings and values of our tradition when reflecting on what they learned during their season or expressing gratitude for their experiences. The banquet opened with a d’var Torah (words of Torah) in which a graduating senior and varsity lacrosse player linked her experience playing lacrosse at Gann to Gann’s mission as a community school and to this week’s Torah portion, parshat B’midbar (the beginning of the Book of Numbers). She spoke about the census – the counting of B’nei Yisrael – at the beginning of the parsha, and the ambiguity and debate about why God counts the people yet again. “While the commentators find different reasons for the census . . . I don’t think it matters if there was a reason for it. What better reason than simply to let the people know that they were counted, that (each person) mattered as a simple person (and) as part of the whole. A community is a body of individuals . . . (who) find meaning in being together, playing together, supporting each other to rise to a higher level.” Earlier in her d’var Torah, she shared that, “while I do believe that Gann is a strong community, I think that it is no better represented than on the sports field. Each sports team is a microcosm of the larger Gann community . . . Playing on the Gann girls’ lacrosse team has taught me . . . to work harder than I want to work. It has taught me to use my smarts to play the game, not just my strength. But above any physical lesson I have learned is the greater lesson – to play for the team, not just for myself. And what is being in a community about if not that? You can be the most amazing individual, but you are nothing without the people around you who support you.”
As a teacher and as Head of School, I am moved and overjoyed by this student’s passionate, eloquent and authentic articulation of our school’s mission and its transformative impact on her life. This young woman, soon to be a Gann graduate, simply gets it. She gets Gann, she gets community, and she gets one of the most powerful aspects of Judaism. She is about to graduate with the capacity to navigate and make meaning of her world, in part because she is grounded in Torah and Jewish values and because she has been supported, challenged and uplifted by a powerful experience of community. She has internalized the power and the paradox of community that both sports teams and the census at the beginning of B’midbar so beautifully illustrate: every individual counts, every individual has a role, but ultimately we “play for the team, not just for ourselves.”
May we all be blessed to feel counted and valued for the individuals we are and for the unique gifts we bring to our teams, our families, our school, and our People. At the same time, may we be humbled and inspired by being part of something greater than ourselves and by the experience of, in the words of this remarkable young woman, “playing together with one heart.”
Rabbi Marc Baker