The Roanna Shorofsky Theater was filled with joy, excitement and the anticipation of summer.
The Lower School final assembly program was a celebration of the Heschel Lower School Birthday Tzedaka program, a rousing musical performance by each grade, and finally, the “passing of the flags” symbolizing each grade moving up.
Your children may have shared with you that over the course of the school year they were invited to Sharon’s office to celebrate their birthdays. They talked about plans for their upcoming birthdays or how they recently celebrated. They excitedly discovered which other Lower School children share a common birthday. Each child received a dollar and had a chance to choose to donate theirs to one of three charities - West Side Campaign Against Hunger, AFYA, or Camp Simcha - and then some shared the reason for their choice. It was suggested that this can be the beginning of a tradition that will follow them through life, pairing their birthday celebration of themselves (highly important!) with a habit of giving to others .
The assembly began with the children learning more about the impact of each charity from a staff member, a current Middle School Student and other fellow Lower School students. The children also celebrated their hesed activities throughout the year and watched a video with footage of themselves in action. A larger than life sized check was displayed representing the total collected for each tzedaka.
Following the check presentation each grade sang a song representative of their grade, culminating in a representative of each grade “passing the flags” as they moved up.
Grade 8's Moving Up Ceremony commemorated the students' completion of Middle School. The program included the students' reflections from the year, musical performances, and heartfelt remarks from administrators. Mazal tov to all the families of Grade 8!
Lori Skopp's address to Grade 8
The water was very cold. This was true almost everywhere we went swimming in Israel, and the Red Sea in Eilat was no exception. After a brief orientation, we donned our snorkels and life jackets, and cautiously jumped off the northern dock into the cold lapping waves. As we looked out from the water, the mountains of Jordan loomed quietly. Swimming through salty water along a buoyed, roped off area toward the southern dock about 50 meters away, we observed fish of every color, and even an octopus. This was *our* interaction with the Red Sea. Tourist safe, student friendly, entirely an event of NON-biblical proportions.
But let’s rewind to the same spot 3300 years earlier.
The Israelites have just fled Egypt with the Egyptian army at their tail. A large, unwieldy, and tired multitude, they have reached the shore of the Red Sea unprepared to battle the Egyptian army behind them, yet equally unequipped to enter the cold, strong waves—no life vests, no snorkels, no docks, no safely roped off area. Like many of the refugees we have learned about in school, going back is not an option, yet going forward into the water is also perilous. The leaders of the tribes of Israel, one by one say “not me”; I am not going to be the first to jump into the water. According to midrash, only one brave leader, Nachson ben Amindav, steps up and steps in. After Nachson jumps into the water, God says to Moshe, “Lift up your staff” and the waters part so the rest of Bnai Yisrael can go through on dry land.
Coincidentally, it is this week’s parasha, parashat Naso, that provides the inspiration for this midrash about Nachshon ben Aminadav and the Red Sea. As you learned in seventh grade Tanach, in this week’s parasha, each tribal leader brings an identical gift to consecrate the mishkan. But Nachson is the first tribal leader to come forward with his tribe’s gift. The question is why? Why was Nachshon first? The midrashic story of the crossing of the Red Sea is provided as an explanation for why Nachshon was honored in this way.
Eighth grade, you are the “Nachshon” of Heschel--at the forefront of something unknown and the first to plunge into new experiences, because you represent our first expanded grade at Heschel. Unlike previous classes, which had 50 students, you have more than 70 students. You have jumped into the water from year to year, and you have marked a number of firsts just by virtue of being in this lead, large class.
In the same way that Nachshon’s action inspired Moshe to take action--lifting up his staff to part the sea--your position as the first large class has inspired--and required--your teachers and administrators to take action. How do we group a large grade into classes? How do we manage serving lunch to such a large grade? How do we handle advisory for a large grade? How do we allocate lockers and classrooms for a large grade? How do we provide academic support for a large grade? How do we challenge such a large grade? How do we take a large grade to Israel? One by one, you led us to these questions, which led us to action, which helped us to adjust our school to accommodate fifty percent more students. You helped us to learn and to grow through the challenges that your position put us in.
But let’s be realistic. You didn’t choose to be at the front of something dramatic at our school. It just came your way by chance. And maybe that was the same with Nachshon. Think about B'nai Yisrael as they approached the Red Sea. Thousands of people hiking through the desert, schlepping whatever belongings they could hold, carrying at least three liters of water each, and also matzah and snacks. Not everyone could have been at the front. It could be that Nachshon was just a fast hiker who ended up near the front and then had the OPPORTUNITY to jump into the water. He was positioned well for leadership, but he didn’t have to take that first step; he actively CHOSE to jump in.
So, let’s talk about the ways that we helped you to CHOOSE to jump in because there were so many times when I heard your teachers say, “we can try that with this class because they will succeed at whatever we put in front of them.” So, it was due to the strength of your class that we were able to initiate and expand a number of programs:
Our Middle School musicals were enhanced by your broad participation, and the choice to perform “Into the Woods”, a challenging musical by Stephen Sondheim, was made possible because of your talent and your interest in participation.
Our Model UN and Moot Beit Din projects grew in scope and seriousness with your participation.
We added a scavenger hunt in historic Philadelphia to your sixth grade overnight--a first for us.
You were the first class to do a seventh grade current events conference which parents and peers attended.
You hatched eggs into chicks in the science classroom--a first (possibly a last) for the school.
When we thought of having a three-day end-of-year field trip to Washington, DC we knew it could work for this class. As a result of this extra day, you were also our first class to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
We developed a brand new mock Supreme Court case for your class on the topic of students’ rights to privacy and cell phone use in school. Your performance as lawyers and justices was outstanding.
In Hebrew class you established a pen pal relationship with a school in Ramat Gan, Israel--and we were able to visit that school and interact with your pen pals on our last day of the Israel trip.
And perhaps, most impressively, were the Community projects that you spearheaded this year--creating elements that will leave a lasting mark on the quality of life and spirit in our school--especially in the eighth grade nook.
In the problem-solving realm, you did some complex Pi Day math this year, including working on how to best cut a cake to avoid the inside drying out!
But there are still some problems you haven’t helped us to solve. I guess we will leave these for future generations. For example, how do we make sure Chromebooks get put away? What about pizza lunch? And how come we don’t have nap time? But one leading class can’t do it all. You need to leave some challenges for those who follow.
Eighth graders, perhaps you didn’t choose your lead position at Heschel, but--like Nachshon--you CHOSE to lead from your position at the front. You established a positive culture--supporting each other’s individuality while working well together as a group. And all throughout, you retained a joy in learning and in each other. You are truly an outstanding, wonderful, and VERY NICE group of students. We will miss you sorely. But we know that you are off to grow and to learn and to embark on new adventures and accomplishments.
Here’s my bracha to you. As you grow, remember how at every Israeli swimming hole you jumped into the water--no matter how cold--and swam with joy, challenged and invigorated by the brisk temperature. Hold on to this part of who you are and continue to jump in with gusto, even when the water is freezing. Like Nachshon, you might be the first to jump in--and maybe that will be because you fortuitously ended up toward the front of the line of hikers. But that’s okay. CHOOSE to jump in first. The water won't always be warm and inviting, so be prepared. Others will surely follow--possibly multitudes.
Mazal tov, eighth graders. We’ve loved having you in the Middle School. We will miss you. Come back to visit. Good luck wherever you go!
Grade 2 students had their Celebration program this week. After tefillah, the children sang songs about the seven days of creation and then proudly presented their projects about the story of the bereshit. Each child wrote and illustrated a book in Hebrew that described what happened on each day and also made t-shirts illustrating the different days of creation.
Grade 5 celebrated the completion of lower school with their Moving Up ceremony, a heartfelt performance that revisited their experience at Heschel throughout their years in the Lower School. With their families, friends, teachers, and other members of the community present, the children spoke about what they learned at Heschel, sang songs including "Listen to the Sound of My Voice", expressing the sense of hope and power they hold in their hearts, and also received a blessing from their teachers.
Parents, faculty, administration, and members of the Board of Trustees came together for the Heschel Class of 2019's graduation. The ceremony was filled with moments of nostalgic reflection and inspiring words for what the future holds for each of the graduates. Congratulations to the Class of 2019 and their families on this momentous milestone.
Grade 4 completed its unit learning how to read from the Torah with a public reading of the 10 commandments in honor of Shavuot.
Good afternoon. Welcome faculty, administration, members of the board of trustees, families and beloved friends of our graduates, and – of course – I know that all of you will join me in welcoming the Heschel Class of 2019.
I am honored to stand here today as our Head of School and also as a very proud parent of one of our graduates.
It is an incredible privilege, dear graduates, to say mazal tov on all that you have achieved to reach this spectacular moment. We all know how hard you worked to get here. Today we are filled with appreciation and gratitude: for your enthusiasm, your engagement, your energy, your strong opinions, and for all you have done to shape our school over the past years and leave your stamp on Heschel.
And, of course, mazal tov to parents, family members, and friends for reaching this incredible moment together. Thank you all for being here today. And thank you for always being our partners. On a personal note, it has been a true blessing for Jesse and me to raise our children together with you and it is a gift to celebrate together today.
A special mazal tov and thank you to our magnificent faculty, administration, and staff. Your commitment, passion, wisdom, patience, and sense of humor brought us here today. It is a privilege and a pleasure to count myself as one of your colleagues and I thank you for all you have done to lead these amazing graduates to this stage.
Rumor has it that there has been some speculation about whether, as a Head of School and a mom, I will make it through this speech or collapse hopelessly in a puddle of emotional tears. And let’s be honest: who knows?! The jury is definitely out.
Members of this very large and public jury: You will all get to find out within the next few minutes.
Now, let’s be clear: few public speakers are excited to get up with the uncertainty of whether they will laugh or cry. I am no exception. And so this is a challenge. Like all speakers, I would like to be in total control of this presentation. But - so it goes! -- that is not in the cards for me today. SO, as a second-best option, being an educator, I will try to turn this into a teachable moment as you, members of the Class of 2019, leave Heschel and head out into the world.
So, in that spirit, here’s what I hope you remember as you leave our walls: You are not always going to feel in control. You will have those moments when you don’t know what’s going to happen next; when the future or even the present feels uncertain; when you’re not sure whether you are going to laugh or cry. And (here’s the important part!) that is okay. Indeed, it’s more than okay; it’s IDEAL.
Rabbi Heschel once reflected on what it means to be human. He observed: “What keeps me alive -- spiritually, emotionally, intellectually -- is my ability to be surprised.”
Listen again: “What keeps me alive -- spiritually, emotionally, intellectually -- is my ability to be surprised.”
Breathe deep and take that in. It’s counter-cultural. We live in a culture that prizes control. We try to plan. Indeed, throughout high school, we have tried to teach you to plan. And you should plan. We try to choose our words carefully. We have certainly tried to teach you to choose your words carefully. And you should keep doing that. We strive to be in control. And that’s great. Make good, deliberate decisions, work hard, fight for what you believe in. Set goals and make plans to achieve the things you want to achieve.
AND, plan though you may, you’re not always in total control. So embrace your ability to be surprised and look for those surprises! Some things are unplanned or unplannable. Sometimes we are overcome by emotion and we just cry. Sometimes we find ourselves laughing hysterically. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we anticipated. Sometimes opportunities pop up out of nowhere.
Just think about the run of parshiot at the beginning of sefer bamidbar, the book of the Torah that we start reading this shabbat. The opening parshiot are all about planning and control: all about an elaborate census and lots and lots of orderly and ordering rules. And then comes total craziness: spies telling elaborate lies; the ground opening up and swallowing people whole; and, of course (wait for it!), a talking donkey.
Surprises happen. No matter how much you plan. And when they happen -- and, believe me, they will -- remember Rabbi Heschel’s words and consider those moments core to your very humanity.
And, actually, it’s more than that. Because far from thinking of the unexpected surprises as disempowering (and, believe me, I know that it’s easy to feel that way), Rabbi Heschel considered those moments deeply empowering. Here are his words to carry with you:
“I’m surprised every morning that I see the sun shine again. When I see an act of evil, I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere -- I am still surprised! That is why I’m against it; it’s why I can fight against it. We must learn how to be surprised.”
That, my dear graduates, that’s the point: Don’t just wait for or fear the uncontrollable moments when you are surprised, LEARN to be surprised.
Learn to be surprised in ways that make you appreciate the things you might otherwise take for granted: the sun each morning, the family and friends that support you, the daily activities that nurture you.
Learn to be surprised so that you never stop fighting for the things that you believe in.
Learn to be surprised so that you never get used to violence or war or cruelty.
Learn to always be surprised by injustice.
And use that sense of surprise as a call to action. You have the power to make change. You have tools that you can control and you should use them! As a wise group of seniors once said: Commit to something!
Make plans to use the skills you have to improve some corner of our broken world. You have the right to vote -- use it. Don’t stop trying to choose your words with care. And don’t stop making plans to fulfill your dreams.
AND when you confront the most surprising talking donkey, or when you suddenly laugh unexpectedly, or cry when you just wish you could control it…. Don’t forget to embrace and appreciate those humanizing moments.
And most importantly, look around today.
My blessing for you is that your plans allow you to follow your dreams and that you will find great humanity in your moments of surprise. And, in both the moments when you feel in control and in those moments of profound surprise, remember that we will be there for you: to laugh with you, to cry with you, and (from where ever we are, even if we are no longer physically by your side) to appreciate with you every morning that the sun is shining again.
Mazal tov class of 2019. Thank you for teaching all of us to be surprised in so many magical ways and congratulations on reaching this incredible moment.
Grade 8 traveled to Washington, D.C. for a three-day overnight trip that tied into their humanities curriculum. The trip included a visit to the National Museum of African American Culture and History, the Supreme Court, a scavenger hunt through the monuments, and half a day at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. When the students returned to school, they spent the day creating and sharing artwork inspired by their Holocaust Museum exhibits.