Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Grade 8 Students Celebrate Completion of Middle School at Moving Up Ceremony

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

"Jumping In"

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!