Brandeis 2024 Today - A Remarkable Community

A Remarkable Community

by Dr. Dan Glass, Head of School
Hello from New York, where I am representing Brandeis at The Covenant Foundation’s annual project director’s meeting, and meeting with some of our alumni at Columbia and other New York colleges and universities. We had a beautiful, joyful 60th-anniversary community celebration this past Sunday—I wanted to share in this space the welcome address I shared there. 

Hello and welcome! It is such an honor to have you all here to celebrate this amazing school’s sixtieth anniversary. For those of you who I haven’t yet met, my name is Dan Glass, and I have the good fortune of being the head of school here at The Brandeis School of San Francisco, in my ninth year in that role. And if we have not met, please come introduce yourself today—whether you are an alum, a former parent, a friend of the school, if you are here to celebrate Brandeis then you are someone I would like to know. 

This year, as part of this sixtieth anniversary, I have had the chance to speak with quite a few of our alumni. We had a big gathering at a brewpub here in town a few weeks back, and I’ve taken alums out to dinner in St. Louis, and I fly out to New York tonight in fact, where I’ll be meeting with more of our alums, including some currently at Columbia University. I even met with some alum families in Tel Aviv, when I was in Israel meeting with educators in November. There has been a consistent thread to these conversations, a variation on this question: how does it feel at Brandeis right now, how is everyone holding up?  

I typically have responded in two ways. First, I am happy to reassure them as I am happy to reassure all of you that Brandeis has remained throughout this hard year a space of joyful connection and learning, a kind and intentional school filled with bright and engaged families and their beautiful, diverse, and brilliant children. On any given week day, Brandeis constitutes the largest gathering of Jews and Jewish-adjacent folks in the Bay Area, which itself is the fourth largest Jewish community in the United States—our place in the Jewish world is not small, and it is a happy one. Thank God for that. 

And, I also respond that this year has been profoundly upsetting and disorienting. We have community members who lost family and loved ones on October 7th, and others who have family members currently serving in the IDF; and as a community that understands the sanctity of life and cares about the present and future of Israel (with 29 of our 8th graders there right now!), we feel a profound and deepening concern about what is happening in Gaza, and the decision making guiding the war effort. At the same time, our own lives as Jews and those who run with the Jews in the Bay Area have become deeply fraught—this is the first time in my more than forty years living here that I have been yelled at and called a racist in the street simply for walking into a Jewish event. I hear from families feeling like all of a sudden they have no place in America, anywhere along the political spectrum, and worried about what that might mean. There is no doubt that we are in a narrow place in our history. 

To those two answers I have given, today I’ll add a third. Up in our CREATE space, one of our maker spaces here on campus, we have these giant letters hanging up there that spell out and illustrate the word CREATE, made by students in a middle school art elective in 2015. The “A” in that word refers to “awe,” and comes from the work of the great 20th century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In God in Search of Man, he writes:

“The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” 

Whether they are working with circuit boards or writing their own page of Talmud, we want our students to wrestle with the big questions, the arguments for the sake of heaven, those matters of “infinite significance”—it’s why a school like Brandeis exists. But today I am thinking of that Heschel quote—one of my very favorites in the world—for those wide horizons of time. Because we are celebrating sixty years here today, but those sixty years are also an invitation to eternity. The songs we sing, the prayers we teach, extend back centuries and millennia, and speak of some of our earliest attempts at living in community in a values-centered way.

As Rabbi Rachel Cowan puts it: 

“I am blessed to be a voyager on an ancient pathway, that continues to offer new insights and responses to new questions of meaning, ethics, and responsibility…I am Jewish because the religion, the tradition, and the community inspire me and support me to follow the path that the Prophet Micah challenges us all to walk: ‘To do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8).” 

That is the hope we carry and that we build anew each day with our young people: that as the Torah teaches we choose life that our children may live, we choose justice and kindness and humility. That is the path we walk across history’s narrow bridges, with compassion rather than fear in our hearts. That is what it means to repair the world, one step at a time. 

And of course, that ancient pathway and those wide horizons of time only persist from generation to generation thanks to the efforts of those who raise their hand and say yes, hineni, I am here, I am part of this thing, I am willing to help. As my friend and colleague Angie Dalfen put it to me recently, community is something you create, not something you consume. And today is at its core a celebration of some of the many folks who have helped create and shape the Brandeis community. 

So thank you—thank you all for being here today, for being part of celebrating and continuing the story of this remarkable school.