By: Craig Byer, Web & Social Media Specialist at Gann Academy
Based on the number of rain jackets, umbrellas and rain boots stacked up in Gann Academy’s lobby, an observer might assume the All-School Retreat was to the Pacific Northwest. Although the Gann community knew the annual retreat was to Camp Yavneh in Northwood, NH, day one of the retreat started with a steady downpour as student leaders packed school buses for the trip.
But Mother Nature decided to change her mind during the ride to Camp Yavneh, clearing the clouds for sunshine and setting the tone for the rest of the retreat. After students, faculty and staff checked into bunks and ate lunch together, Rabbi Marc Baker addressed everyone in a speech focused on sharpening our minds in any environment, creating opportunities to learn and community building.
Rabbi Baker’s words ignited the rest of day one’s activities, which included identity and Jewish journey programs that segmented students into smaller groups. The identity program helped students introduce themselves to one another and trade ideas on what they hope to learn more about in the forthcoming school year. The Jewish journey program had students draw a picture of how they arrived at Judaism to this point in their lives, and many referenced their families and the sacrifices they made.
After the two programs concluded, students, faculty and staff had chofesh, or free time, during the afternoon. Activities varied from swimming and kickball to board games and walking the grounds, to catching up with friends and optional prayer.
In the evening, students, faculty and staff freshened up and dressed in formal attire for the “Baker Banquet.” While some took formal wear to the next level — namely Rabbi Baker, Yoni Kadden
and David Slavick who each wore a full suit with Baker wearing a top hat — everyone was ready for a large meal, Zman Kodesh
(optional sacred time), Maariv
(evening prayers) and “God of Our Fathers
,” a solo show from actor Jon Adam Ross.
The show, which followed a fictional Jewish family as they undergo assimilation, garnered a loud response from Gann’s student body as well as faculty and staff. There were times of laughing, gasping and questioning. Once the show concluded, Rabbi Baker joined Ross on stage for a “Talk Back” session that allowed students to interact with an out-of-character Ross. This served as a pivotal moment in the retreat because students disclosed how they agreed, disagreed or, in some cases, found a connection from the play to their own lives. There were many thought-provoking comments by the students.
Day two began with a meaningful story from Rabbi David Jaffe
about the shofar’s importance across multiple cultures and Senior Elie Lehmann did the honor of blowing the shofar signaling it was time to dive into the next program, Gann’s Ultimate Challenge. Gann’s Ultimate Challenge can be best characterized as a physical and mental obstacle course where students and faculty must solve puzzles, diagrams, and guess words and phrases. Students and faculty vigorously worked together to solve the puzzles where correct answers resulted in prizes, and also entry into a raffle and tickets for GanndyLand, which showcased the school’s student-lead clubs and organizations. GanndyLand also featured games and snacks resembling a carnival, such as apple-bobbing and a cotton candy machine among others.
An afternoon BBQ in perfect weather followed GanndyLand, where prize winners were announced by the Jewish and Student Life team and the Gann student leaders to loud ovations. The BBQ provided a relaxing time for students to sit with fellow students while unwinding from the Gann Ultimate Challenge.
It was then time to say farewell to Camp Yavneh, but not before a “Fire it Down” session with all students and faculty at the outside amphitheater. Rabbi Baker called upon the student body one final time, asking a few students to share a moment or learning experience from the retreat. This was the moment the retreat came full circle as numerous students — from all grades — shared their “exploration of learning,” which was a phrase Rabbi Baker said the day before at the banquet.
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