THE CLASS OF 2022: LEADERS ROOTED IN JEWISH VALUES
CESJDS graduated 94 students on February 13th, 2022 at Washington Hebrew Congregation in a ceremony marked by storytelling, a call to action and the traditional rituals usually found at graduations: students proudly strutting across the stage, in this case a bima, to the cheers of their loved ones and the tossing of their caps high into the air. Two days prior, seniors and their families, faculty and staff gathered at B’nai Israel Congregation for the Dr. Stu Lessans Class of 2022 Siyyum, a unique CESJDS milestone event. This joyous gathering filled the sanctuary with communal prayer, student reflections, and noted accomplishments.
As a newcomer to the community, I observed and noted the importance of these milestone events as they speak to the heart and soul of our K’hillah. Both events, held at local synagogues, display the pluralistic nature of the community, diversity of Jewish background, beliefs and practices among the student body. Students led the two prayer services, providing davening choices for their honored guests, and gave the D’var Torah for the week’s parsha, Tetzaveh. All in attendance witnessed future leaders of the Jewish community living the core values of Torah Lishmah and Ahavat Torah genuinely and passionately.
So different from what I have ever experienced. Students reflecting on and participating so fully in the “closing ceremonies” of their high school careers. Students rooted so deeply in their school’s values. Most striking during Siyyum was the theme seniors chose to define their grade, leadership. One senior shared:
“No matter how long each of us has been at JDS, the Class of 2022 excelled at stepping up in times of need. We decided that the Hebrew quote "ובמקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש" is an excellent representation of our grade. This translates to, “in a place where there are no leaders, strive to be one”. Well, that’s our interpretation…”
A call to action for all to hear and which bears repeating “in a place where there are no leaders, strive to be one.” Another student reflected further, “While we were leaders before, COVID presented us with a unique opportunity to become more driven, vocal, and resilient, so that we could create impact in our communities.”
The student leaders went on to share people, past and present, whom they admire as leaders. The diverse list assembled represents the varied interests of the student body and the enriched educational experience the school provides - Malala Yousafzai, Martin Luther King Junior, Beyoncé, Simone Biles, Katherine Johnson, and Pastor Ándre Trocmé. These individuals are change makers, past and present, who participated in Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Not a coincidence that our graduates recognized these individuals.
While their “official” CESJDS journey ended on February 13th, 75 graduates chose to continue their Jewish journey on the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. There, CESJDS graduates will further develop the core value of Ahavat Israel, a strong personal and ongoing relationship with the state of Israel, its history, people and culture. This life-changing signature CESJDS experience is a perfect bridge to the next phase of their lives, adulthood.
I had the opportunity, during Siyyum, to congratulate the Class of 2022: an outstanding group of scholars, musicians, journalists, philosophers, athletes, artists, scientists, mathematicians, politicians and just all around mensches! Walking the halls, visiting classrooms and Zman Kodesh spaces, attending sporting, musical and social events over the last 5 months, I was captivated by their joyful and spirited presence. I shared that I was honored to support them on a small part of their journey at this exceptional institution.
I know these confident and compassionate thinkers will continue to engage the world through Jewish values and always take up the mantle of leadership wherever their journeys take them.