Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Tribute to Mr. Gross

As a young history teacher, I was always using the latest teaching techniques/overcompensating for my youth. Meanwhile, next door was Mr. Gross, telling the students about the Constitutional Convention as if he had been there and reading from the Gettysburg address as if he had given it. While I taught about WWI he presented the Civil Rights Movement as a primary source, someone who had heard Martin Luther King’s  most famous speech perched from a tree on the Mall and rode buses South on “Freedom Rides,” literally risking his life for a cause he believed in.

Mr. Gross and I were cosponsors of the U.S. Politics Club. While our own political movements were being quashed, we still watched with glee as our students developed a love and passion for politics.

Mr. Gross loved the Chicagoland Jewish High School. When the school moved to Deerfield I could not manage the commute. Mr. Gross, twice my age, arrived at school for morning minyan every day on time with his tefillin wrapped waiting for the first student to say the first prayer of the morning.

I imagine many of the prayers spoke to him. For Mr. Gross, the school was Ma Tovu.

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
And I, with Your great loving-kindness, shall enter Your House; I shall prostrate myself toward Your Holy Temple in the fear of You.
O Lord, I love the dwelling of Your house and the place of the residence of Your glory.
Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
But, as for me, may my prayer to You, O Lord, be in an acceptable time. O God, with Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.

For him the blessings of the morning also must have held significance, particularly the Birkot Hashahar. While I could not, would not, relate to the blessings, I now read them from Mr. Gross’ vantage point, and understand his piety from a different perspective; from the point of view of someone who had seen our own country during the turbulent times of the 1960s.

Praised are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe,
Who enables His creatures to distinguish between night and day.
Who made me in His image.
Who made me a Jew.
Who made me free.
Who gives sight to the blind.
Who clothes the naked.
Who releases the bound.
Who raises the downtrodden.
Who creates the heavens and the earth.
Who provides for all my needs.
Who guides us on our path.
Who strengthens the people Israel with courage.
 Who crowns the people of Israel with glory.
 Who restores vigor to the weary.
 Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids

Working for a new school has its ups and downs. Mr. Gross rarely complained, if at all. While many of the teachers (I) and students griped about everything and anything, he quietly fulfilled his duties in the classroom and more, attending many of the boys basketball games and other after school activities.

But he always told me when I came to visit the school how much he missed me and how much I was missed. No one else really said that because it’s just not something you say when a teacher leaves a school, unless it’s for retirement or they move. Mr. Gross always expressed his admiration for my spirited discourse while I envied his calm wisdom that I knew that I lacked.

Mr. Gross touched the lives of so many people, including my own. I still owe him five bags of chocolate candy that I took from the bowl sitting on his desk.

And to his students who are very sad today, you should know, he loved you all, no matter your academic prowess. And to Michael, Victor and Danny, he felt blessed to have such caring students who tried to help him with his health. You probably gave him, and all of us, more time, which is incredibly precious.

I would say that if Mr. Gross wanted anything from his students it would be to live a righteous life as he did, and in the face of adversity, to always do what’s right.

And to fulfill your dreams.

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