Several years ago, we published an article in HaYidion entitled “Hating God in Front of the Whole School.” In it, Rabbi Jeremy Winaker, head of school at Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington, DE, discussed a fraught incident that took place:

In the middle of all-school tefillah at Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, one third grader announced publicly that he hated God and that he hated prayer. The outburst had its own behavioral issues; the theological quandary, though, also needed to be addressed. …

Winaker drew upon his experience as a pulpit rabbi to introduce theology as a way for students to wrestle with their emotions and with larger issues of life:

I said that it is okay to be angry with God. I also said that I believe, though others may feel differently, that God—who we say is infinite—is big enough to take our anger without getting mad in return.

I was reminded of this article by a blog I just read by Gary Wexler, a communications professional and professor at UCLA. Wexler writes of a panel he recently moderated:

The first question of the evening I posed to this distinguished panel:
“From your professional knowledge and experience, if the Weinstein Company were your client, what Communication advice would you give them?”
There were immediate gasps and then a dead silence, both on the stage as well as in the audience. It was exactly my plan…

He continues: “I have learned that when moderating a panel in front of Millennials, you must take risks. You must create tension to keep the generation riveted.”

In the case of Winaker, the gasp originated, unplanned, from the student; the teacher/head of school needed to manage it. In Wexler’s case, he intentionally built a “gasp moment” into the beginning of his presentation. In both cases, the gasp creates a powerful moment for reflection, for breaking out of routines and usual ways of thinking, for confronting what we really believe and care about.
Have you or a colleague ever had to respond to a gasp moment in school?
Have you ever engineered a gasp moment as an educational device?