From our Kabbalat Torah Graduation Shabbat
Ben Wax; Jessica Stein; Cole Spanierman; Ben Dallek
Senior Speech; Ben Wax
I want to talk a little bit about what Judaism means to me at this pivotal point in my life as I graduate from Crown Family High School. To start things off, I’d like to put this out there – I don’t know what it fully means! What I do know, is that after my 4 years of Jewish High School, and my 8 years of Sunday School, that I feel at home with the Jewish community. It’s a feeling I get when I walk into a temple or even just a group of Jews, wherever and whoever they are, that I feel a sense of comfort that I don’t really get anywhere else…Although I don’t know if any of you have ever sat in a hammock, ’cause that’s pretty dang close.
I feel as if there are so many experiences that I’ve really only had because I am Jewish, like going to Jewish day camp, followed by Jewish sleep away camp, going to all the bar and bat mitzvah’s in 7th grade and actually knowing what the heck was going on during services or hoisting the kid up in a chair and dancing and chanting around them (it’s a rite of passage thing, you wouldn’t get it) and then of course there’s being part of Jewish High School. To most people, the only difference between “Jew Camp” and regular camp is that we keep [some form] of kosher, and say some prayers. But one thing, that I never realized at the time but now that I look back upon it I appreciate most: is the sense of community, a tight group of people who I always felt comfortable with and as if I had some sort of commonality with, even if it was only because we’re Jewish.
And then of course there’s family.
I am so appreciative that my parents have always been supportive of my Jewish values, and I can’t believe I would ever say this, but thanks mom and dad for making me go to Sunday School and for the high holidays, because now they can’t stop me from going, which I know they would never do. I know now something that I haven’t known before, I have strong Jewish values and a sense of community that I know I can find wherever I go, and being at such a great junction in my life where I am soon going to be off to college, where I will live independent of my parents (Mom, Dad, please send food, I’m not that independent), but that I will be so happy to continue my Jewish education on my own in whatever form that may take. I am confident now knowing that I will be able to be a member of a Jewish community at University where I can be with a group of new people I’ve just met, and feel like I have shared experiences with them, and will be able to create new memories with them, just as I have with my friends and those who I would even consider my family here at Temple Sholom. And I mean, going to school in the midwest, we’ve all played Jewish geography, we know where that’s going!
And now it comes a time in our lives where we live away from home, and away from our parents to tell us to go to services or to Sunday School, no matter how “tired” we are, or how “sick” we feel. It reminds me of a high school class that graduated a few years ago: a group of people I really looked up to. I will always remember them as the class with Jordan and Alec, and how much I wanted to be like them because they were so cool and they always had an answer for everybody, even if they were faking it. I’m friends with them on facebook and am in contact with them still and see that they are very much still involved in Judaism and follow with the things they’ve learned, and it makes me think of my own Jewish education and how I’ve become a motivated student of Jewish values. It makes me appreciate one of the greatest pillars of Judaism: education, and how we are all students for life, and the glass is never full. Being here as a student and even a teacher for so long has made me realize these things and I am so thankful for the learning that I have been a part of here.
Being Jewish; Jessica Stein
Being Jewish to me is early Sunday mornings, late Wednesday evenings and the constant Hebrew chants in the back of my head. It’s giggling at the youth shofar choir, singing at High Holidays and sitting down with my family to light the Hanukah candles. There are so many things that define how I am a Jew. Most are positive and others are not as positive. Being Jewish can be hard. When there are swastikas found in the library, when someone somehow thinks making a joke about the holocaust is a good idea and when I’m told that I don’t “look Jewish”. In my experience however the positive always prevails. Some of the best things in my Jewish experience have been the sense of community, the constant music, and the lifelong learning.
I have always loved the community at Temple Shalom; from the time I was young at Gan Shalom, to when I had my own bat mitzvah. The Temple was always a place where I felt safe and cared for. Temple is the only place I would want to be at 9:15 on a Sunday morning. Even though it’s early, I’m always greeted with sleepy smiles. I have also found love and support in the Crown Family High School program. I look forward to going to Temple every Wednesday night. It gives me time to relax in an otherwise stressful week. One great example of how thoughtful and amazing the community I have at Temple is the reaction I received when my mom had a stroke a little more than a year ago. Since that happened, there has been a prayer of healing for her every single time I’m there. It helps me give a positive connotation to a situation that was otherwise hard to deal with. Another aspect of my experience at Temple has been being surrounded by music. Anyone that knows me understands that music is a huge part of my life. I’ve always loved to sing and music has consistently been a positive outlet for me. Until 8th grade, I wasn’t confident in my musical abilities, I just loved music. About a year after I started singing in my choir at school, Cantor Katzman approached me with the idea of singing for High Holidays services. Cantor Katzman knows that I have always loved High Holidays because of all the music, but at first I was unsure of whether I could do it or not. After some pushing and prodding, and a bit of time to think, I decided to take the cantor up on her offer. That year I sang Misheberach for the first time at the Roshashana service. It was one of my favorite solo performances to date, and I believe I loved it so much because I realized I was praying for others. I have sang Misheberach and some other prayers at High Holiday services ever since. The last area of Temple that has been very meaningful to me is the learning environment. Anyone that’s ever been to Temple Shalom Sunday school knows that a key person to that environment is a certain happy, energetic red head. I was privileged enough to have Kendra as my 7th grade Sunday school teacher, and also my bat mitzvah tutor. Kendra knew how much I loved music, and incorporated music to be a key aspect of my bat mitzvah. Instead of simply reading the prayers, I chanted all of them. Many people forget most of the prayers a couple years after they have had their bar or bat mitzvah, but not me. To this day, I still randomly think of different parts of my Torah portion and prayers, all thanks to Kendra.
My history with the Temple goes back before I was even born. My parents got married here, I had my naming ceremony here, I went to preschool here, I had my bat mitzvah here, and I’ve worked here for the past four years. The Temple has helped me create a Jewish identify for myself that will last a lifetime. I am so privileged to be surrounded by people who genuinely care about me. I will miss this community more than I can say next year. Although change is hard I look forward to continuing my Jewish learning next year and for many years to come.
My Jewish Story; Cole Spanierman
My journey as a Jew began as a small child in Miami, just after I turned nine. I was sitting on the deck of my grandfather’s apartment, showing off my knowledge of World War Two. Little did I know this would be a night that would change my perception of war. This was the night when I listened to a firsthand experience of the Holocaust, a story of love, tragedy, hopelessness… yet mixed with hope, compassion, and one’s will to survive.
As a 15 year old boy, my grandfather spent two years in Auschwitz, during which time he lost his two brothers, a mother, and a father. As the war ended, he made his way to the only place he could think to go, his home in Hungary. But when he arrived, he discovered that it had been looted and was in ruins. Lost, he made his way towards New York, and eventually ended up in Montreal.
During his time in Auschwitz, my grandfather witnessed firsthand the effects of hunger on the human body. As a young adult living in Montreal, he opened up a Kosher butcher shop, and made it his goal to never let anyone in need be hungry. Every holiday, he contacted the Rabbi and received a list of all the Jews with financial need, and made sure that every family had more than enough food for the holidays.
My grandfather inspired me to contribute in the same way, through the Monday Meal. As most of you know, the Monday Meal is a meal served every Monday to 56 homeless, hungry, or lonely men and women. Throughout my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I spent most Mondays during the school year participating in the Monday Meal, providing what I could to those in need.
Although I struggle to believe in God, I do believe in the values of Judaism. Every Wednesday, I participate in discussions about specific values and beliefs with my fellow piers. Some values that resonate with me include our discussions of racial justice and social action, as well as existential beliefs and the miracle that despite incredible odds, we are all here tonight to celebrate this milestone in my development as my fellow piers and I move on to our next stage in life. My journey as a Jew is dedicated to my grandfather, who passed away last August. Thank you.
Senior Speech; Ben Dallek
Good evening everyone. Tonight I want to talk a little about what being Jewish means to me. Over the years, I’ve been taught a lot about Judaism, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to begin to focus on what being Jewish means to me—to make it my own. I’ve come to realize that even though we may share some similar experiences as Jews, we often have very different definitions of what it mean to be a Jew. For me being Jewish means the Monday Meal at Temple Sholom, serving hot meals to our homeless guests. It means enjoying connecting with my friends in social action. It means going to Sunday School and learning about Jewish history, traditions, and culture. It means coming every Wednesday night to Crown Family High School to spend time discussing topical issues and connecting them with the Torah. It’s Sunday mornings working in the office helping out with the religious school. It’s going to Jewish Summer camp and forming relationships I will cherish forever. It’s playing music at the Monday Meal, and at services. It’s about having my Bar Mitzvah. It’s youth group events and going on the annual retreat. It’s about being with family, the closeness and love we share and celebrating holidays together. These are just a few of the experiences that have shaped my view of Judaism over the last 18 years.
Yet, my quest to define what Judaism is to me is just beginning. I’ve recently been getting more involved in social justice and action through the Temple after reading, “Why I am a Jew,” by Edmond Fleg, as he reminds us… “in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps”. I’ve developed a new appreciation for fighting against racial injustice after attending a lecture and discussion by author, lawyer and social justice activist, Bryan Stevenson. I’ve also begun to wrestle with the significance of Israel and what it means to me when Daniel Gordis came and spoke to us about how Jews have nowhere left to go, as throughout centuries we’ve been exiled and turned away. Through our thoughtful Wednesday night discussions, I’ve questioned the importance of dating or marrying someone Jewish and raising my kids Jewish. There’s a multitude of things that I need to figure out and I hope many more challenges and opportunities come my way so I can continue to define what Judaism means to my identity.
You make Judaism what you want it to be in your world- your reality. What seems important is to avoid the status quo and Jewish stereotypes. In fact, making it your own, and owning the experience of your interpretation of what it means to be Jewish, engages you more with the community then following any given rules. Although I am still striving to figure out what it means to be an ideal Jew, I realize that my vision may be different then my fellow Jews. I feel honored of being part of the Jewish community that is diverse, accepting, open and welcoming. The fact that there are many interpretations of Torah and that many different customs and rituals are accepted helps bring together beliefs and traditions that have infinite possibilities stemming from it all, yet connected with deep roots to the same tree.