Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Middle School Moments

Grade 8 had their Moving Up ceremony on June 14, 2018. The program included the students' reflections from the year, musical performances, and heartfelt remarks from administrators and the President of the Board.


Dear Eighth Grade Students,

I'd like to shower you with a few memories--an outpouring of sorts.

Last year--seventh grade--remember? It was a long time ago.

Last May we took an overnight trip to upstate New York and Albany. On our second day of the trip, we went to Taconic State Park where we took a nature walk to the magnificent Bash Bish Falls. Before we embarked, I referred to this excursion as an "easy hike" or perhaps I said to you "don't worry; it's not much of a hike--nothing like we'll be doing in Israel." The hike brought us to a beautiful waterfall where we experienced the awesomeness of nature, and saw how water--this soft, liquid substance--is a force of nature, with its power to cut through rocks and come pounding to earth. Afterwards *you* said, "this isn't a hike, this is a wike, a cross between a walk and a hike." Thank you, eighth graders for making up this new word that I will use...every time I go on a wike.

This year in Israel, we graduated from "wikes" to more legitimate and challenging hikes. On the second day of our Negev trek we hiked several hours from our campsite to a beautiful oasis called Ein Akev. Here, again, we experienced the miraculous power of water. The centerpiece of Ein Akev is a freezing cold natural pool fed by a small waterfall--located in the middle of the hot desert. You jumped into the water from the nearby rocks--some of you belly-flopping on purpose--the freezing water taking your breath away.

On the subject of watery experiences, our arrival in Israel two days earlier had been quite unusual. After loading our two tour buses at the airport, we began driving toward a nearby park where we planned to have Tefillah and a picnic breakfast. But then it began to rain. Not just a slight drizzle, but a torrential downpour of almost biblical proportions, which is very unusual weather for Israel in April. Rabbi Jack and the tour guides began considering alternatives, all the while expecting that the rain would stop as quickly as it began, but the more we drove toward our destination, the heavier the rain fell. Eventually, we decided to delay the picnic and change its location to a part of the country where it wasn't raining. Although you were exhausted and jet-lagged, you enjoyed the chocolate rugelach and cereals--fresh, but not rain-soaked. You went with the flow!

Water can sometimes *be* the destination, like at Bash Bish or Ein Akev, or it might cause you to change the destination, like on our first day in Israel. It is powerful enough that it literally shapes the landscape, but it's soft enough that it flows through your hands. You learned in sixth grade humanities that ancient Egyptian civilization was dependent upon the fertile Nile River delta. And in seventh grade social studies you learned that water provided the means for trade, growth, and expansion of civilization during the Middle Ages. This year in eighth grade science you studied the water filtration, water purification, and water delivery systems of modern times. Water goes hand in hand with evolution, growth, and development.

Your middle school years have been a time of personal evolution, growth, and development. You have come of age during a tumultuous time, a time when discourse and sophisticated debate have sometimes been drowned out by hateful language and slurs. There were moments during middle school when some of you were swept into this societal current. Your teachers responded with love and patience, guiding you toward calmer waters; your parents were also incredible partners. It truly takes a village, and I feel blessed to have been part of that village and to have witnessed and supported your tremendous growth into more evolved thinkers, nuanced debaters, and caring individuals.

But most remarkably, you have helped *each other* to grow. When we say the word "water" we refer to something collective, something bound together. Something that accumulates. A single drop of water has very little power. A cup of water can save a person's life. And this collective property of water is even more obvious in Hebrew, where the word water, "mayim" is a plural word.

You, eighth graders, remind me of the collective state of water. You stand out in how strong and highly-functioning you have become, together as a group. You have grown to complement each others' strengths, support each other, look out for each other, understand and accept each other's vulnerabilities and quirks, and, most unusually, keep each other in check, correct each others' misdeeds, and help each other through difficult moments.

Scientifically speaking, the molecules of water are attracted to each other due to the positive and negative charges of oxygen and hydrogen, so that if I add another drop of water to a cup of water, it is immediately attracted to the other drops of water, and becomes indistinguishable from its surroundings. Likewise, you are a grade that has absorbed new members throughout its three years of middle school. In fact, nearly a quarter of you joined Heschel during sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. Like individual drops added to a cup of water, newcomers have become indistinguishable from their surroundings, an intrinsic part of the collective, with the boundaries fading over time as the molecular attractions have grown stronger.

Sometimes water can come in the form of a destructive hurricane, tornado, or flash flood, but I urge you to use *your* power as a force of nature for good: to soothe, to quench, to put out fires, to shape your surroundings and to be shaped by them in turn, to change course, and to water your shared roots and let your branches grow upward, even if slightly away from each other.

At Ein Akev, the desert oasis in the Negev, I made the decision to jump into the freezing pool. It seemed like a good decision at the time given how enticing the water looked. But two hours later when my hiking pants were still wet and stuck to my legs I had second thoughts. Water, it turns out, can stick to you for some time.

And I think that *you* will stick with me for some time.

In the immortal words of the band Toto, a band that many of you love, a band that released its first album when *I* was in eighth grade:

"It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you

There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

I bless the rains down in Africa"

Eighth graders, we bless you. Sometimes, like freezing water, you take our breath away. Sometimes, you make waves. There are times when you are fresh, but mostly you are refreshing: a desert oasis on a hot day, a powerful waterfall breaking through the rocks.

We will miss you more than you know. You have considerable strengths, and we all know that you are going to use them to create incredible futures for yourselves. Mazel tov! Mazel tov!


Read more about Grade 8 Moves Up

Students from Grade 8 gathered together to compete in a Heschel Moot Beit Din competition. The students, divided into teams, presented and argued a case regarding a daughter's decision to handle the failing health of her father: a man with Alzheimer's and heart disease.

Students used a variety of Rabbinical and Halachic sources in order to determine how the patient should be medically treated. Judges for the Moot Beit Din included two Heschel high school seniors, as well as a practicing physician.

Read more about Grade 8 Gathers For Heschel Moot Beit Din Competition
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