I began my journey at JDS in Kindergarten, where I anxiously walked into Mrs. Levitt and Mora Shira’s class on the first day. Looking back, I have a hard time believing that I was actually worried about having to play with blocks and Legos all day. As I reflect now on the last 13 years of my life at JDS, what I now realize is that what I have been given is the sense of community, rigorous learning environment, and the long-lasting friendships that JDS provided me with on that first day up until this very moment where I’m a senior in the Upper School.
I am incredibly grateful for the skills JDS has imparted to me, such as becoming a leader, managing my time effectively, and developing important knowledge of the world around me. As I went through my Lower School years, with writing projects like one in third grade where we each compiled a short book on a different culture, Color War, and engaging projects like the fourth-grade science fair, what I thought at the time were individual experiences, are actually all components of a greater, holistic approach.
One of the benefits of being at a school like JDS is being a part of a PreK through 12th-grade program, where you are known, and where teachers and administrators create a consistent educational experience, helping us become who we are today. It is through both academic and extracurricular pursuits that I have come to cherish my 13-year journey at JDS. Let me walk you through just a few of them.
When I moved from the Lower School to the Upper School, despite the fact that I had gone to JDS my entire life and knew virtually everything there was to know about the school (or so I thought), it was an entirely different experience once I started Middle School. Middle School can be rough enough, and it’s safe to say that my confidence was shaken.
What I quickly realized was that there was nothing to fear, that JDS was my home. I kept those same friends (my best friend from kindergarten is still my best friend today), made dozens of new ones, kindled critical relationships with teachers, and above all, was welcomed into a community of kind-hearted individuals who cared for one another.
One special moment during my first year in the upper school that comes to mind was entering the school building as the senior class huddled together at the entrance, celebrating their last day of high school. As they welcomed each student into the school, I felt part of a special and committed community in which every student is valued for who they are.
And then, the learning began. Above all, I can say without a doubt that JDS provides a comprehensive educational and academic experience for every student that walks through its doors.
I vividly remember interactive experiences like Model Congress, where each student proposed a bill to the rest of the class, and then passionately debated the specifics of each topic. Or the science fair, where I tested the battery charging rates of different Apple devices. These experiences, although they sound standard to any school, were combined with JDS’ signature desire to challenge each student based on his or her strengths and to improve them with each assignment, speaking exercise, or project.
The very fact that I wrote this speech to deliver today is evidence of JDS’ ability to transform any weakness, no matter the subject or life skill, into a strength. As a middle school student, writing did not come easy for me. With the help of my English and history teachers, I learned how to think critically and express my thoughts through analytical writing. Today, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a future JDS graduate. Whether it was meeting with my English teacher Ms. Fisanich during lunch or staying after school with her to write essays, JDS gave me the attention and tools I needed to succeed.
My early years in middle school prepared me for my next chapter at JDS, which was ninth grade. Heading into more uncharted territory, I set my hopes high and took on new experiences. I enrolled in our unique Journalism course, ran on our cross country team, and joined clubs like Junior State of America (JSA).
I soon was taught how to be a leader and apply lessons to our real lives in the outside world through class simulations, public-speaking exercises, and mock debates, and fell in love with courses like the History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Modern Jewish History. One specific memory I have is when our entire class represented world leaders at the first World Zionist Congress conference, or when we each delivered speeches as current members of the Israeli Parliament.
Through these courses, JDS teachers, many of whom I befriended along the way, helped me apply classroom skills to extracurricular activities, like debate and newspaper. They also helped me shape my interests and grow even closer to Judaism and Israel.
A cool fact that I’ll share is that although I am not in a class this year with my amazing Jewish history teacher, Mr. Bregman, I email him on a weekly basis to discuss current events in the Middle East. You know, just standard stuff for any high-schooler to talk about with a teacher.
I recently completed my stint as the Editor-in-Chief of our award-winning school newspaper, The Lion’s Tale, and was the chapter president of our Junior State of America government club. My small experience at JDS, along with every other student that decides to take on a new course or activity, is proof that any student, regardless of their skillset or background or how “smart” they are, can do more than just get by.
I was able to be proud of my accomplishments and know that I stretched my comfort zone in the process with the guidance of teachers and staff members who gave me the individual attention that I needed to do my best.
JDS has been the safety net and foundation that I could lean on during difficult times, like when my grandfather passed away when I was in seventh grade, and happy times, too, like when the cross country team rallied around me when I set a new personal record in a race. I was also able to participate in a Minyan and say Mourner’s Kaddish with my peers in the days following my grandfather’s passing.
My experience at JDS has been guided by many of the school’s Jewish values, especially caring for one another and having mutual respect. These values have been an important part of my JDS career and have shaped much of my identity today as a proud Jew and Zionist.
Looking ahead, I’ll always miss walking from class to class, room to room, and smiling at teachers and friends in the hallways and knowing that I was just a small part of one of the most inclusive communities that you could find anywhere. We all want to feel like we belong, today more than ever, and that’s something that everyone can find at JDS.