- Lori Skopp, Middle School Head
- Rabbi Jack Nahmod, Middle School Judaic Studies Head
- Sara Timen, Grade 8 Dean
- Where We Are From (Poem)
Dear wonderful, incredible, magnificent eighth grade students!
Mazal tov on reaching this milestone moment. You started middle school as children, and you are ending middle school as teenagers--ready for high school, analytical, mature, and determined.
I want to thank your parents: for nurturing you and for partnering with us these past few years.
I want to thank your teachers for stimulating you intellectually, and supporting you in every way possible.
I want to thank Sara and your advisors: Kendra, Dan, Eugene, Evyatar, and Gillian, for listening, responding, and planning programming to make your school year more engaging and enjoyable.
I want to thank Anna for directing and coordinating today’s Moving Up Ceremony, and I also want to thank Judy and Liat for helping you to create beautiful poetry and artwork for today’s program, and Avigail for recording the national anthems with you. And Jude, Sara, Cleo, Ariela, Linda HS, Susan, Amit, Richard for their incredible organizational skills, which are in full view today.
But most of all, I want to thank YOU, dear students. Despite the obvious craziness of the past year and a half, it has been extraordinarily easy to be your principal. In fact, I am not exaggerating when I say that *you* have been an inspiration to me. During moments this past year when I felt truly challenged by circumstances, you were my role models for resilience, determination, and a nothing-can-stand-in-our way attitude. You are so thoughtful, passionate, respectful, interested, curious, enthusiastic, poised, and caring--and this has kept you going so far, and will--no doubt--keep you going in the future. I want to thank you for inspiring me, your teachers, and each other.
As I look to your future, here is my bracha to you:
May you continue to inspire those around you with your strength, intellect, and mutual respect. May you always be resilient in the face of adversity.
May your special, quiet, calm strength be a light within your spirits forever, like a ner tamid--the eternal light over the aron kodesh, the Torah ark.
And may the most essential lesson of the Torah, ve’ahavta le’reaach kamocha, be your guiding principle forever.
And of course--may you always go from strength to strength as you head into your futures in high school and beyond.
Thank you and kol hakavod!
Thank you Ariela, the Board, and proud parents and family members, for all the support you have provided these past three years of Middle School to our amazing 8th graders and to us. You have enabled us to arrive at this wondrous occasion. The world we live in never ceases to amaze, le’tov -- in positive ways -- and unfortunately sometimes le’ra (in negative ways), and the combination of tremendous leadership and support from you has meant more to us this year than ever before.
I’m going to take a moment to look back at a story from Bereishit in order to learn something about this week’s parasha of Korach. You may recall that in the story of Sdom and Amorah, Avraham’s nephew Lot and his family are warned about the pending destruction of those cities. They are told to flee without looking back, but Lot’s wife does look back and as a result is turned into a pillar of salt.
Chananel Munk, in one of his books about female biblical characters, offers an original and I think beautiful interpretation of this episode: he says that actually Lot’s wife wanted to turn into a pillar of salt, that she wanted to be left behind because of her empathy with all the others who were being left behind. Just as they turned into salt as part of the destruction and desolation of Sdom and Amorah, so did she.
This week we read the story of the rebellion of Korach. After some very unpleasant back and forth with Moshe and Aharon, Korach and his band of rebels bring offerings to God. Moshe declares that if their offerings are accepted by God, then the rebels are right and he is not their true leader. However, if the ground swallows them up, then it will be made clear to everyone that they were mere troublemakers, and Moshe is in fact their rightful leader. They bring their offerings, and are promptly swallowed up by the earth.
It is hard to argue that Korach and his followers are well-intentioned or good-hearted people based on how the Torah describes them. However, applying Chananel Munk’s understanding of Lot’s wife to this situation, what if Korach and his followers were doubling down on her show of empathy? Last week we read that because the meraglim (scouts) provided negative reports on Canaan, which convinced almost all of Bnei Yisrael that God had abandoned them, the entire generation was told that they would not be allowed into the land due to their ingratitude and lack of faith.
Perhaps Korach and his followers did not want to continue to Canaan once they knew most others would never have the chance to; perhaps their empathy was as deep as the earth that swallowed them up, the earth that was going to swallow up that entire generation!
Thus from this dark tale might we learn a lesson of empathy, even -- and especially -- for those who can be perceived as unlikable and bad actors. In those inevitable moments when we don’t understand each other, we must redouble our efforts to do so; we must dig deeper within ourselves and within the reality of the other. This is the mitzvah we have emphasized all year, what I call our empathy mitzvah, ve’ahavta le’rei’acha kamocha.
Just to take another moment to push this point even further -- both as a midrash on this story and as a life lesson -- the parasha then describes a conflict between Aharon and others, which is resolved when his staff blossoms as confirmation of his authority. Perhaps the empathy of Korach and his followers, which led them to be swallowed up by the earth, then enabled that same earth to cause Aharon’s staff to blossom! Perhaps those blossoms grew out of their empathy!
8th grade: as you continue to learn and grow beyond Middle School, may you continue to show the empathy that enables yourselves and others to blossom. We have seen this trait even as you -- like the staff of Aharon -- have been compelled to blossom in place. I have marveled at your ability to have so much fun playing tabletop games with classroom desks pushed together; and hallway games with swimming noodles as baskets and yourselves as the backboards; and of course your hallway walks, back and forth, back and forth.
These obviously all occurred because of the less than ideal circumstances we have found ourselves in this past year, and I realize they aren’t necessarily the most direct examples of empathy. To me, though, they show an ability to connect with one another, support each other and make the most of challenging situations in ways that I believe will illuminate your relationships well into the future. And my tefillah for you is that experiencing and overcoming your own challenges this past year will inspire and enable you to better understand and show more empathy towards others when they experience theirs. Always dig deep for that understanding, and then when you think you’ve reached your limit, dig a little deeper.
Alu ve’hatzlichu kita chet, may you continue to ascend in your learning and in your growth, as individuals and together as a community.
Good afternoon colleagues, families, friends, and our dear, outgoing 8th grade students. Today is a special day to celebrate your remarkable journey through Middle School.
I am Sara Timen, the 8th grade dean and one of the 8th grade science teachers. I am overwhelmed with awe and gratitude while looking out at ALL my students sitting together in front of me, after teaching them in cohorts for the past nine months.
This is an extraordinary grade that thrived in an extra-ordinary year and I will do my best to share with you some of those moments.
A few weeks ago, at our annual Heschel Spring Benefit, a video was presented to 1000+ viewers, in which 250 members of our Heschel community had united in a pre-recorded song as part of a Heschel KOLective. The video was a mashup of music, but the lyrics of one specific stanza by Andra Day were particularly familiar...
And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again.
While the entire video beautifully depicted the journey and resilience of our whole community, this refrain was an apt reflection of my students.
These eighth graders are a group of enthusiasts, who are hardworking, diligent and innovative in all that they do.
While enthusiasm is common from Heschel students, it can often be fleeting in Middle Schoolers. But, this grade has both passion and endurance. They are participatory, eager to learn, eager to share, eager to help. They consistently go above and beyond.
Their hands spring up to answer before we even finish our questions. They will work through their breaks to finish up a project, lab, or assignment. They will wait in line for office hours during lunch breaks, jumping between faculty zoom rooms.
It is not uncommon for 8th graders to lose their academic momentum after the first semester. But this class diligently plugged through their coursework even up through last week.
And their enthusiasm was not limited to their coursework.
During town halls they channeled Richard Simmons while sweat’n to the oldies, they became young chefs creating Heschel-themed breakfasts, they learned to shuffle, and starred at trivia. Last week, we prepared Shabbat meals as a thank you to our families, with students staying after to perfect their challah’s braid, add the perfect garnish, and leave their kitchen cleaner than when they started. They laughed at themselves, and at us.
And despite the limitations of our strict covid protocol (designed to keep us safe), with admirable ingenuity, this grade entertained themselves. Whether it be through building a makeshift ping pong table out of classroom desks, transforming any soft classroom prop into a basketball, having finger-air boxing tournaments in the park, playing rooftop baseball games using cones as gloves and bats, becoming film critics with a new appreciation for the classics, or discovering their love of horticulture through a plant named Jeffrey.
When it comes to rigorous academic work, this is a class that rises to the challenge. They are mature, thorough, and sophisticated in thought.
Through hours of intense and collaborative work during their Civil Rights Conference, they maintained a seriousness and maturity like no other. When classmates presented, they respectfully asked each other the kinds of questions that we would expect from educators who push their students to think deeper.
They dedicated weeks crafting written decisions and oral presentations based on rabbinic sources that sought an ethical response to a modern, civil court case. Their arguments had the sophistication of those of talmudic scholars.
They are a group of thinkers- full of curiosity.
They are so drawn into their work that they have been known to stay up late into the night after they finish their assignments, reading related articles or listening to relevant podcasts, and then sending us links and screenshots of what they learned. They regularly would make connections between the news and something they are studying, excitedly emailing their teacher with “aha moments”. They are readers. Eclectic readers of sports, news, classics, science fiction, history, and biographies. This class asked for a book club as an elective.
And our students are problem solvers and their own advocates.
When the schedule was flawed or frustrating, we would receive a written prescription for improvement from them. When the lunch portions or selections were unsatiating, our students figured out how to order two or three (or four) meals. When the limited outdoor time felt suffocating, they negotiated a rooftop class or an outdoor walk during breaks. And when the workload became overwhelming or homework was not posted on Powerschool before 5 p.m, the student handbook would be quoted in a bold print email.
But they also are filled with empathy and kindness.
They read the news through which they encounter hardships in the world around us, and ask why, how, and what can we do? They know how to have difficult conversations respectfully with a sensitivity to their peers, as we collectively worked to make sense of modern issues. They are a class full of students who look out for those around them, who choose to be kind in the world, in a middle school, in which the alternative is sometimes easier. Students who see their peers overwhelmed or sad and then comfort and help each other, even if it has to be at a distance. And they do this. Daily.
This class is full of talent. They are poets and artists with the evidence right in front of you.
They are also scientists, scholars, mathematicians and coders. It is a group of students who play sports such as soccer, tennis, volleyball, track, baseball, boxing, skiing, ice skating, and dance. There are actors, singers, musicians, and gamers.
They are students who take risks and do things they once did not think possible; students who, day in and day out, push themselves to do their best. They embrace our Heschel mission as “responsible, active, compassionate citizens, who I know will be the future leaders of our Jewish and world communities”
I could not be more proud.
We have, in a nutshell, 67 phenomenal young people who are impressive both as individuals and as a group and who have stolen the hearts of every adult who walked or zoomed into their classroom.
Eighth graders, you can confidently leave our Middle School knowing that you are not only equipped, but you are also destined for greatness in high school and beyond. Because even in the most challenging and overwhelming of moments, you have proven that no matter what...
You rise up
You rise like the day
You rise up
You rise unafraid
You rise up
And you’ll do it a thousand times again.
Mazal tov and thank you.
WHERE WE ARE FROM
We are from America and Yemen
...from Irish and German immigrants in Tennessee
...from the land of Zion.
Guatemala is my origin.
I am from a farm in Orange, Australia
with cows, chickens and kangaroos.
From Aleppo, Syria and Lebanon --
but also Poland, Ukraine, and Brazil,
Zimbabwe, Greece, Canada and Argentina.
I’m from Rego Park and Forest Hills,
I am from the sprawling city of Manhattan,
bright lights...the concrete jungle.
Harlem...and Tribeca, Franklin Street to be exact,
where the streets are made of cobblestone.
I’m from a red brick house on the border
of the Upper East Side.
And I’m from the Upper West Side --
the smell of freshly baked Zabar’s bread
wafting into the street.
And we are from all the people who came before us --
...from Little Zaydie who survived the Nazi
death march, and came to New York
...a great great grandpa escaping the Russian army, twice
...Aunt Shifra being smuggled out of Russia
...Fofo and Papa Frank fleeing Iran
during the Revolution.
We are from the menorah a cousin buried
under the house during the Holocaust to hide it.
He came back after, to find it.
From the Cornfeld that turned into a Cornfield,
the tailor whose ability has seeped down
through five generations.
We are from chemists and biologists,
teachers and artists, singers and musicians
and short, hard working dentists.
We are from car dealers and real estate developers,
doctors, engineers, tennis players
and comic book readers.
From overachievers, academic excellence.
...a working family with high expectations
...a family of unique noses
and a sister’s crooked pinky.
We are from blue eyes and big teeth --
years and years of orthodontia,
from nervous habits and knuckle cracking.
And from strong, powerful women.
I’m from my mom reading
The Magic Tree House late at night,
from long barefoot walks on the beach with my dad,
with no destination.
I am from Friday night Scrabble
with a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of tea.
I’m from loving all chocolate.
I’m from my grandma’s golden fried latkes
playing with my tastebuds
...from eating jachnun with family every Saturday --
the great, doughy smell, dipping it in tomato sauce
...from the unforgettable taste of charoset and
matzo ball soup at my mom’s seder.
I’m from making repulsive challah combinations
in kindergarten, and my mom making the whole family
eat a bite, so I wouldn’t be sad.
I am from giving my snack to anyone at school
who was hungry, until I had none left
...from my light blue covered siddur
with the drawing of Mount Sinai on the cover
...playing tag during lunch
...or running straight to the monkey bars.
I’m from the Heritage Fair where I dressed up
as an Irish girl in the middle of a potato famine,
from a school field trip to visit a 900 lb pig
I’m from chromebook chargers,
five minute warnings,
and hot glue guns in the art room.
From A Wrinkle in Time on the carpet in 5th grade,
and To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th.
I’m from the sound of squeaking high tops
playing basketball at lunch,
and from missing the game-tying shot in the playoffs --
but living with it.
Living with it…
I am from having Corona hit the world
like a baseball coming at you --
too fast to know what is happening.
From talking with friends in tiny squares
through my screen,
and picking up materials
to do science labs at home.
I’m from my mom and dad working hard
to keep their businesses alive,
and from asking myself what went wrong
that we are even in this awful time period.
I’m from listening to music on my soft, blue bed
waiting for this to end...
I’m from getting excited about vaccines --
going to school more and more,
and being happy to see my friends.
I am from the blue walls
of the school halls
and the secluded corners
of the nooks we call home,
from opening up my locker on my birthday
to find sweets overflowing.
We are a great and grateful mix --
...knitted scarfs and crochet lessons
...dirty hands from playing streetball
...biking in early summer
and watching the trees grow greener.
We are from eating crunchy chips at 3:00 a.m.
while watching Tik Tok,
and from rainy Taylor Swift concerts
and disco dance parties.
We’re from not wanting to talk,
from over thinking every move we make,
from black eyed susans and sunflowers,
and a deafening longing to find comfort in the stars.
We are from the first orchards in Rishon Lezion,
from feeling the warm sand of Hof Hatzuk
between our toes.
From the whisper of Hungarian -
a language close, but not yet, forgotten.
We are from a house right across from heaven,
a couple of minutes to anything
you can dream of.
Heschel MS Class of 2021