Our students eagerly anticipated Thanksgiving this year. The familiarity and warmth of gathering with loved ones for the holiday is comforting, especially at a time that feels so uncertain in our local and global community.
Some days, it feels like the world is literally breaking apart. We wake up to news of a tragic bus accident at Brandeis, yet another act of hate and gun violence in Colorado, and increasing antisemitism that feels like an attack on our identity, peoplehood, and personal safety. I know that our Gann families looked forward to a much-needed retreat of delicious food, rest, and family togetherness.
In our culture, the Thanksgiving holiday has come to represent the essence of home, as college students leave campus, and adult children travel to elderly parents. This is the holiday of return.
Yet, there is a risk of insulating too much. As American Jews, we deeply understand the tension between particularism and universalism, of being part of a very small, connected micro-community, and our responsibility to go out and proudly serve as global citizens of the world. While it can be easier to retreat, we cannot ignore our responsibility to the larger community. My guess is that many of our students will bring very deep and thought-provoking topics to the holiday table on Thursday and share their questions with all of you.
Embracing the healthy tension that exists between developing a particularistic identity as a Jew and a universalistic identity as a citizen of the world is part of our mission here at Gann. Students effortlessly move between Advanced Talmud classes to courses focused on post-colonial French literature, from a deep dive into Jewish history to a comprehensive analysis of the rise of Islam. For example, in a Current Events course this past week, our students wrestled with how their identities as Jewish-Americans impacted their reaction to Dave Chapelle’s monologue on Saturday Night Live; students considered how to recognize antisemitic tropes and discussed the evolution of Judeophobia across millennia. Hours later, in a seminar on the Vietnam War, students confronted some of the ugly truths of the My Lai massacre of 1968, no doubt bringing their Jewish identities and our tradition’s sensitivity to suffering to the conversation.
Such discussions are always complex. We help students understand that over thousands of years, Jews have lived as proud members of a particularistic community that is committed to supporting the dignity and welfare of all human beings. These two intertwined aspects of our identity are mutually reinforcing, if at times complicated to navigate. At Gann, we lean into the richness of the multiple identities we hold, discussing the nuance with students as we develop important skills of reflection, critical thinking, and empathy.
Gann’s mission is not an easy one. We strive to educate the next generation who “will create a vibrant Jewish future and build a better world where human dignity will flourish.” The Thanksgiving holiday allows us to retreat, to regroup, and to reflect on the importance of this mission. Most of all, this holiday is a time to share our gratitude to all of you for your partnership in this holy task.
Dr. Dalia Hochman