On June 6, 2010, Hebrew College celebrated its 85th commencement. I graduated with two masters degrees: one in Jewish Studies, the other in Jewish education. I was incredibly honored to be one of two student speakers at the graduation ceremony. What follows is the speech I delivered at graduation.
My relationship to Hebrew College is somewhat different from many of my fellow graduates, although far from unique in the history of the school. I am a graduate of Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College – class of 1995; I am now the associate director of Prozdor and the director of Makor, Hebrew College’s middle school collaboration with community congregations; and today I am graduating with both the Masters Degree in Jewish Studies and the Masters in Jewish Education. Hebrew College has been many things to me – the birthplace of many important friendships; a laboratory for testing out Jewish ideas; a supportive environment for professional growth; and most importantly a family. It is particularly meaningful that my graduation is also a day honoring Dr. Stephen Simons, who was my first supervisor and cheerleader in the world of professional Judaism when I worked at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, as well as Margie Berkowitz, who was my teacher when I was a teenager, and before that my mother’s camp counselor at Camp Yavneh, but most importantly, a dear friend and beloved colleague and mentor. My first week on the job at the college, I attended the brit milah of Margie’s youngest grandchild; yesterday I celebrated with her family the bar mitzvah of one of her eldest; it’s fitting that my time at the college is book-ended by these smachot, these family celebrations, because when we refer to Prozdor as a family, we really mean it.
Earlier this year, when it became clear that I would, in fact, complete my degrees this June, people began asking me about what would come next. I’m sure many of my classmates fielded the same question. Now, I’ve been taking classes part-time for eight years towards these degrees, so to be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that graduation might necessitate a next step.
In retrospect, this should have been obvious. The Jewish community is in a state of perpetual anticipation. Maybe this is a natural state for a people waiting for the messiah. I came of age in the era of “Jewish Continuity,” when federations around the country feared that the forces of assimilation were laying waste to Judaism at such a rate that Jews might not be around in a couple of generations if we didn’t take action. While researching my masters thesis, I learned that this was not a new communal stance, just a new label. In my parents’ generation, the call to arms was “Jewish Survivalism.” Today, we instead talk about strengthening Jewish identity. But whatever you call it, these phrases all tend to mask the same shared anxiety: will there be Jews left on earth after we’re gone. Continue reading