Stewards of an Imperfect World

20 October 2017
Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan 5778

Shalom Chaverim, 

After a long stretch of holidays, we have completed a full week of school! Our students, faculty, and staff have hit the ground running this week from the classrooms to the ballfields. In my weekly messages, I often share an experience or moment that has illuminated for me aspects of Gann’s mission and values. There are times, as well, when I am inspired by others’ words—in person or in writing—and I want to share these words with you here. 

Earlier this week at our Faculty and Staff Meeting, three of our outstanding teacher-leaders shared a vision and annual plan for improving and deepening our diversity and inclusivity work at Gann. This work is essential to fulfilling our pluralistic Jewish mission and feels even more urgent in light of social-cultural developments around us and the changing world for which we are preparing our students. 

At this meeting, before delving into student and employee survey data and perceptions about diversity and multiculturalism at Gann, one of the leaders, English Department Chair and Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning Lily Rabinoff-Goldman, opened with a powerful d’var Torah and charge to all of us. In comparing us to Noah after he emerges from the ark after the flood, she beautifully captured the sacred challenge and opportunity of our diversity work specifically and of our entire educational mission. I am proud to share a slightly shortened version of her inspiring words below. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker 
Head of School
Excerpt from D’var Torah to Faculty and Staff
About Diversity and Inclusivity at Gann
by Lily Rabinoff-Goldman
English Department Chairperson and Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning

“In thinking about the role of diversity and inclusivity work at Gann, it’s clear that it requires us to work from both our heads and our hearts. In service of that goal, I’m going to begin today with a d’var Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noah, God regrets having created the world, as it becomes full of wickedness and corruption. God is saddened and sets out to destroy it all—people, animals, insects, and birds. Only Noah, who was righteous in his age, is to be saved. Noah’s redemption, however, comes with responsibility—he and his family not only have to build an ark, but they also have to fill it with enough animals and plant seedlings to repopulate the earth post-flood.

Last spring, along with our colleague Gracie Alcid, I had the privilege to listen in as four of our seniors planned a panel for their classmates about their experiences of being students of color at Gann. That experience—hearing them, listening to them, and trying to keep my mouth shut except to reflect what I’d heard—was equal parts inspiring, humbling, and devastating. I heard the kids’ deep frustration in the ways that their classmates and, truthfully, teachers, hadn’t seen them in their full identities but also their deep relief in having the space and time to talk with one another about what it meant to be students of color at Gann. It was really hard to hear what some of the kids were saying. Like all of us, I love our students and hated seeing their pain. As their teacher, I also felt tremendous responsibility for sometimes having missed the mark. Thinking about them kept me up at night. 

One of the things that I thought about last spring, and that I’ve come back to over and over again this year is the hard balance between urgency and patience. On the one hand, like all of us, and like Noah building the ark before the waters come, I feel deeply the mandate to educate our students as they are, right now.  At the same time, just as Noah needed not only to build and get the animals onto the ark but also to bring along with him the food that they’d need to survive the weeks on board as well as all the seeds they’d need to replant and re-cultivate the earth after the waters receded, so, too, are we tasked with having the forethought to provide all our students not only with the nourishment they need now but also the seeds of what they’ll need to tend their own vineyards and fields after they leave the relative safety of our ark. 

I’ve always thought of Noah as being a lucky person or one who is entitled to his survival because of whatever good deeds got him labeled as an “ish tsaddik (righteous man)” to begin with. Now I think that Noah may, indeed, be lucky, but his burden is also large. He is tasked with being the steward of a new and imperfect world. Even so, Noah is grateful and offers God a sacrifice on an altar once there is sufficient dry land to disembark. In response, God famously gives Noah one of our great and abiding images of miracle and awe—the first rainbow. 

That rainbow symbolizes a covenant with Noah and his descendants—the world will not again be destroyed by flood. Again, however, God reminds Noah that the covenant comes with the responsibility of being the agent of the recreated natural world.

Like Noah, who was a righteous person before the story even starts, as a school, we, too, have amazing natural resources for goodness and righteousness—pluralism, a focus on character development, the presence of devoted, reflective adults are the characteristics that have allowed us to be in a kind of covenantal relationship to our students. At the same time, that covenant is only the precursor to long, hard, patient work, cultivating each of our students and our school community as a whole to allow for growth and flourishing.

To further this metaphor, today’s meeting is meant to be a “reseeding” of sorts. The results from last spring’s school culture surveys will show us that there is much work to do and that the ground is fertile and rich. It is our great hope—and our great responsibility—to embark on this long and painstaking experience together, and, in the process, we hope that we’ll get a glimpse of the most miraculous and awe-inspiring things in our students and our world.
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