Below is my speech from last night's 8th grade graduation, followed by the video I created for them. It felt fitting to share this as my last Kibitzer communication. Akiba, you will remain in my heart forever!
Thank you. Before I jump into my speech, I want to thank my family and children. It has not always been easy having your husband and dad as a Head of School, and I am grateful we have been in this together.
I also want to begin by thanking my leadership team. Carla, Heather, Jill, Yelena, MFP and Levi - none of this would have been possible without you and I am grateful. Miriam - I want to thank you for your partnership these past few years. Akiba, as I know everyone here knows, is so fortunate to have you now and in the future.
Avi Goldberg said in his graduation video that this is a sad goodbye. I can't imagine a more challenging year for our graduates, and I can't imagine a more resilient, stronger and wiser group of young men and women to have gone through this.
I don't want to list all the challenges the graduating class, our staff, our parents and our world has had to deal with over the last few months, but let's just say, as my last act as Head of School, I have renamed the Akiba-Schechter Wolves to the Akiba-Schechter Murder Hornets for next year. You are welcome.
We have been through a lot this year and when COVID hit, well, we went through much more than I think any of us thought we could handle. But handle it we did. Graduates, you handled it with grace, strength and humility. Parents, you also deserve much gratitude for your partnership and support during this difficult time. Thank you also to the school board for your work behind the scenes to ensure we make it not only through this time, but through the many years to come - pandemic free, we hope. And above all, thank you to the teachers and staff. And if I am being honest, "Thank you" are just two words that are not enough. They don't encapsulate how grateful I am to have been through this with you, and how much you have done to ensure our students and families were cared for, that our students continued to learn to the best of their ability and how you built community when community seemed impossible.
When this all began, I signed up for Disney Plus. I knew I would be up late and needed different ways to keep my eyes open in the Akiba Atmosphere. In my Disney Plus journey I became interested in the history of Disney and its father Walt Disney. I came across this quote that stayed with me during this time. Walt said, "You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you." Not exactly what you might expect from the creator of Mickey Mouse, but as I heard the quote, I was reminded of the Jewish idea of Kam Zu L'Tova, that this is also for the good - a most difficult philosophy to believe in when there is so much pain right now.
We have certainly been kicked in the teeth and then some. We have been suffering during this pandemic. Tonight is just one more example of how our lives have been turned upside down as we hold graduation from our homes. But let's not forget, to name a few, the devastating wildfires in Australia, the helicopter crash that killed Kobe and Gigi Bryant, along with seven other passengers, and the pain and suffering because of the murder of George Floyd. This has been a difficult year, and it is not over yet. How can we possibly find the good in any of it?
I wish I could give you the answer, but what I do know is that we will certainly not find any good in any of it if we walk away from all of this as the same people we were before it all began. As Nina said in her graduation speech, COVID made her realize how important Akiba was to her. What have all of us learned from this? Who are we now because of it and who will we become once we leave this graduation tonight.
I have had the pleasure of sharing stories each week with the lower school for Parsha, and I came across this one that I hope helps us find our way ever so slightly through this time.
"A father passed away and left all his land and a large fortune to his two children; among their inheritance was also a small box with a plain gold ring that had been passed down through the family for generations.
Delicately engraved on the ring were the words: "It, too, will pass."
The firstborn, who coveted the land and money, managed to persuade his younger brother to take only the box with the plain gold ring.
As the years went by, the firstborn prospered, and his fortune grew - until one day, when he lost everything, leaving him in a deep depression for many years to come.
The younger brother, on the other hand, kept the ring on his finger and decided to adopt the words that were engraved on it - "It, too, will pass."
Throughout his life, no matter the circumstances, when everything appeared bleak and miserable, when he was faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he would look at the ring and remind himself: "It, too, will pass."
And even when everything was perfect and wonderful, he would still remind himself: "It, too, will pass."
These four words guided him throughout his days; they gave him perspective, helping him to get the best out of the good times, and also to face the bad times untroubled."
You see, graduates, ladies and gentlemen, the bad times do not only exist to appreciate the good times and the good times do not only exist to help us get through the bad times. All times are the times Hashem has chosen to help us make the best out of this world. The question we are then left with if all things truly pass, is, "What will I learn from the time I have and what will I do with what I learn?" If we figure that out, then good is certainly possible from the bad.
All of you were given beautiful graduation baskets today and will soon open them if you did not sneak a peek yet. In it is an illustrated Pirkei Avot that I picked out for you with a personalized bookmark I had the pleasure of making by hand (as I said earlier, late Akiba Atmosphere nights!). When you look at the bookmark, you will notice your name, a Magin David and an Aleph, sof pasuq or colon, and then another Aleph and you may wonder why. I engraved the Aleph because Aleph as a representation and a reminder of the first Mishna of the first Perek (Chapter) of Pirkei Avot, and more importantly, a reminder of who you are at this time. Pirkei Avot is a guide to ethical living, and the first Mishna is a reminder that it is not an ancient guide but one for now and forever. The first Mishna reminds us that the Torah (bible) was given to Moshe Rebeiinu (Moses), then to Yeshoshua (Joshua), the Zekenim (elders), the anshei knesset hagedolim (the men of the great assembly) and so on. It starts this way to remind us we are part of this chain, this mesorah, this tradition. The time we are in now remains one where we can stand and be a model of morality and ethics. And as I look at our graduates tonight, I know they are exactly that.
I wish you Hatzlacha (good luck) in the next step in your journey, and I put together a video for you guys to let you know this is not goodbye.
Shabbat Shalom and until we meet again!