A time-honored custom at Roxbury Latin is recognizing, as a school, important moments within various religious traditions. We do this, as Headmaster Kerry Brennan describes, not simply for the pursuit of knowledge, nor in celebration of our school’s great diversity, but because “in hearing about and from the witnesses to these different faith traditions, our own journey toward meaning and fulfillment can be most hopefully informed.”
In this year’s recognition of the Jewish High Holy Days, we welcomed Dr. Jerry Katz to speak to students, faculty and staff about his personal faith journey and the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Dr. Katz is head of school at Gann Academy, a coeducational Jewish high school in Waltham.
“These Jewish holidays mark ten days of intense reflection between when we believe ‘our names are written in the Book of Life’ (Rosh Hashanah) and when ‘the book is sealed’ (Yom Kippur),” said Dr. Katz. “For me, that means reflecting on ways I may have missed the mark over the year, and how I might atone for those missteps.”
After describing his family’s history of immigrating to the United States from Europe intent on assimilating, and then their purposeful, dedicated return to Judaism following World War II, he described how his own identity as a Jew has ebbed and flowed over the years, becoming more central at various points in his life.
Dr. Katz helped the audience understand that “there are more than 30 different expressions of Jewish belief in America, falling essentially into three bands: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, oriented according to how they determine ‘What is truth?’”
A Reform Jew himself, Dr. Katz believes we do not ask forgiveness from God, but rather from our fellow human beings. For him, the fact that members of the Jewish faith commit to this reflection and renewal once a year implies commitment to a healthy, growth mindset, “always evolving, capable of changing, capable of improving.”
Dr. Katz has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher and school leader, including as former head of The Park School, which he led for 20 years. Between leaving Park and becoming head of Gann Academy, Dr. Katz served as head of school at Rodeph Sholom School, a K-8 Jewish independent school in New York City. Today he helps educate young people to become confident, engaged, and responsible members of the Jewish faith.