Hello Class of 2023! I’m so excited to be here with you today speaking as a JDS alum.
But to be honest, when Dean Landy asked me to speak, I was a bit confused. I’m not a politician, doctor, or fancy lawyer - there are plenty of those in the JDS alumni community. So, why did Roz ask me? By the way, I’m allowed to call her Roz now–it’s one of the perks of being an alum.
What could I tell the class of 2023 about how JDS guides my life today?
So I thought back to when I was in your shoes. I was going to major in journalism and become a journalist. Of course I would be, I was Editor-in-Chief of The Lion’s Tale. Which is still probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had! I wrote for my college newspaper and still write as part of my job today, but I’m not a journalist.
As part of my Freshman year core requirement in college, I took a History course I loved so much that I decided to change my major. I thought I’d make a better history teacher than a journalist–after all, Mr. Buckley made it look so easy. But I’m not a History teacher, either.
During my Junior year of college, I wanted to study abroad. My Hebrew was still pretty good thanks to Geveret Dagony and my JDS Israel trip was incredible - so studying in Tel Aviv was an obvious choice. And that one year wasn’t enough– after graduating college, I had plans to make aliyah - but as you might be sensing a theme here - I didn’t make aliyah. I did live in Israel for another two years teaching English and I did meet my Venezuelan husband there. But in the end I decided it wasn’t right for me - Israel, I mean, not my husband.
Changing my path each time was never easy–I often felt like a failure in the moment. But I made those decisions for a version of me that was changing. You learn new things about yourself, and that’s okay! JDS instilled within me a spirit of resilience and never settling. And reflecting back, all these pivots allowed me to have wonderful life experiences.
So where did I end up?
I became a Jewish educator. In the end, the path came to me. For a summer job in Israel, I staffed a Young Judaea high school program and I loved it. A few years later, I got my first official job working as a synagogue educator in Manhattan. I hadn’t yet realized that at the time - it came later - but JDS made Judaism feel like home to me.
What I liked about Jewish education was that it was my way of connecting others to their traditions, communities, families, and to themselves. And within this field, I’m always finding new ways to create connections. I’ve started an Israel curriculum organization, a tz'dakah crowdfunding platform, and taught at a Jewish day school.
Now, I’m the Education Director at a Hebrew School startup in Brooklyn. If you would’ve told me I’d end up here at my JDS graduation 16 years ago, I would’ve laughed. Ms. Mcmillan, even more so! But I suppose, when looking back, it makes perfect sense. It’s the combination of all these experiences– JDS, writing, studying History, living in Israel, teaching English, that led me here.
And, since I am now a Jewish educator, I’ll leave you with a little midrash. Since you are all JDS grads, I don’t need to tell you that a midrash is a story that elaborates on the Torah.
When the Red Sea parted, two Israelites–Shimon and Reuven --did not witness the miracle everyone else saw. Unfortunately, they never looked up! They kept their heads down, complaining about the mud on their feet the entire time. While everyone else was singing and dancing, they were kvetching.
Class of 2023. I’m sure your path will look quite different than my convoluted one. But whatever path you take, try to look up and don’t get too stuck in the mud.