Telling Your Story, Building A Community

"I had to forge my own path and not let myself be defined by stereotypes and expectations."
—Speaker during this year’s Sh’ma Kolenu program

Throughout the year, Gann students come together as a community to hear personal, emotional, and inspiring stories from their peers. Sh'ma Kolenu, which means "hear our voice," is one of these programs and helps to foster empathy for Gann's LGBTQ community.

"Listening, really listening with your whole self is hard," says Rabbi Sara Meirowitz, Associate Dean of Jewish Education and a co-advisor of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club. "Sh'ma Kolenu is an opportunity for students and faculty to come together to tell parts of their story, and for students to listen and empathize—sharing stories of coming out to family and friends, rising above bigotry and hate, and building community."

This year, two students and one teacher addressed the school. In past years, parents and alumni have offered their stories as well. Leading up to the program, participants work with an outside story coach to craft their narratives into a moving script to create a program reminiscent of an episode of The Moth story hour. What makes Sh'ma Kolenu particularly special are the appreciations that community members offer to the speakers after hearing their stories. The end result: a more empathetic, understanding, and connected community.

Sh'ma Kolenu started in 2013 and builds on the rich history of Gann as a pluralistic high school that embraces people of different identities. Some of this history was documented in the filmHineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School. "Sh'ma Kolenu is one of the events most anticipated by the student body," says Emily Hart, a Science teacher who co-advises the GSA with Rabbi Meirowitz. "It's really a day of celebrating the LGBTQ community and builds on Gann's culture of open and empathetic listening."
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