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CESJDS Has Prepared You to Live and Lead in a Hybrid World
Rabbi Mitch Malkus

CESJDS Has Prepared You to Live and Lead in a Hybrid World

We are pleased to share Rabbi Malkus' charge to the 2019 seniors who graduated from CESJDS this past Sunday. His address was titled "CESJDS has prepared you to live and lead in a hybrid world" and explored how the school as a hybrid institution prepares students for the non-binary realities they will face in the world in which they live.

Earlier this year, JDS alum and Broadway star Ethan Slater visited the school. And as his Tony Award-nominated alter ego SpongeBob SquarePants would say, "This kind of day / Couldn't get much better but it keeps on trying."

Parents, I know days like these bring out such a strong mix of emotions. Such pride at what your child has accomplished... Such wistfulness that the time has come for them to spread their wings... Such relief that many of you have written your last tuition check.

And students, I hope you take a moment to look around this room. Cherish all those moments that have made your time at JDS so special. Think about the legacy you're leaving behind. You've pulled off a great senior prank—pretending to be TSA agents and intensively screening everybody who came through the door. You've dominated Hebrew Academy (well, almost) on the basketball court and showed you were dancing queens in an amazing production of Mamma Mia!

You've sang your hearts out at Zimriyah. Even if the judges didn't appreciate it last year. Or the year before ... Or the year before that... At your final Kabbalat Shabbat last month, you wore your JDS jerseys, wrapped your arms around each other, and sang songs of farewell. And now... here we are.

This ceremony is called a commencement. It's a beginning, not an end. And I can't help but think about some other beginnings. Almost 20 years ago—before I came to JDS—I began as a head of school. That was my beginning. My second day was September 11, 2001. Many of you were born that year. That was your beginning. It's a huge generational marker. Some even call your age cohort the Post-9/11 Generation.

And in many ways, I think that tragedy was a turning point. It marked the end of a binary world and the beginning of a hybrid world. What do I mean by that? For many people my age, the world we grew up in was pretty black and white. There was a Cold War going on... and you were on the side of Communism or democracy. Israel was under siege... and you were with her or against her. There was generally one way to be a practicing Jew... and you were either observant or not.

That was then. But one thing we have learned since that dark day in September is how complex and non-binary the world is. The same social media technologies that can help crowd-fund a stranger's medical care... Can also help turn someone to hate and violence... as we tragically saw at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The same news sources that inform us can also inflame us. Today, the world is shades of grey. The choices we make are not "either or"—they are hybrids of many different options and opinions. Luckily, that's exactly what you have learned here at JDS.

In your classes and conversations, you have come to appreciate the words of Talmud Hagigah 3b: "And God spoke all these words. Therefore make your ear like a grain hopper [funnel] and acquire a heart that can understand the words of the scholars who declare a thing unclean as well as those scholars who declare it clean... the words of those who declare a thing forbidden and those who declare it permitted... the words of those who disqualify an object as well as those who declare it fit."

JDS itself is a hybrid. We choose to blend tradition and innovation. We value a pluralistic approach to our school, the Jewish community, and American society as a whole. It has never been our goal to teach students to adopt a particular perspective. We are invested, rather, in helping students live with complexity, contradiction, and ambiguity. We want you to think for yourselves and come to your own conclusions. As the artist and architect Maya Lin put it, we seek to create a place in which to think, without trying to dictate what to think.

Think about our school curricula—the way our Jewish and general studies education inform one another. So that, for instance, you can hear the echoes of the prophet Isaiah when you're studying the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You've studied Torah and Jewish teachings as part of a multi-millennial process of interpretation that stretches across the generations. And you've learned to see how different interpretations emanate from particular historical experiences but also resonate today.

At a moment when the partnership between the Jewish communities in the United States and Israel is strained ...you have studied the Hebrew language in ways that allow you to transcend those divides and interact creatively with Israel and Israeli culture.

You have classmates who have written New York Times letters to the editor about Supreme Court nominees. Programmed robots. Tutored and donated toys to less fortunate students at Shriver Elementary in Silver Spring. All of those experiences go into that grain hopper. And what comes out is a nuanced understanding of things clean and unclean, forbidden and permitted, fit and unfit. As one alumna[1] put it, "JDS was the best GPS for discovering who we are."

Hopefully, you have discovered that who you are is a class comfortable with complexity ... prepared to engage with a world that does not resolve itself into simple and easily digestible answers. And that GPS will continue to help guide you as you venture out into the world. See, you may be leaving JDS. But JDS will never leave you.

Out in the world, you will soon realize that not everybody is as comfortable with complexity as you are. From our leaders to our local communities, you'll meet a lot of people still stuck in those old binaries. So my wish for you is that you will show the rest of us how to transcend those binaries and embrace that hybrid outlook—in your studies, in your careers, and in your lives. In the words of Talmud Hagigah, acquire that heart that can understand. And appreciate that no single choice or approach is the only valid one.

In the coming years, some of you may find yourselves supporting Israel by attending AIPAC. Some of you will show your support for Israel outside of AIPAC. Five of you are choosing to support Israel by serving in the IDF. And every one of those approaches can be applauded. Similarly, you may come to appreciate that there are many ways to be a committed Jew. That could mean strictly keeping Shabbat and keeping kosher. Or dedicating yourself to studying Jewish texts or Jewish history. It could also mean going to shul infrequently but channeling your dedication to tikkun olam into non-profit work. Or it could mean embracing all the cultural aspects of being Jewish: enjoying Jewish foods ... reading Jewish literature ... applying Jewish values to your life ... and watching the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. All of those are Jewish pathways. And you will decide for yourself what unique blend of tradition and innovation feels right to you.

And when the time comes to build a career, I hope you bring that same flexible approach. Whether you go into an office from 9 to 5 or work remotely while taking care of a young child, know that there are many right choices. In your life and relationships, you will encounter multiple paths. And it is now up to you to embrace the multiplicity of life. And show the rest of us how to walk those paths as well.

Yesterday's parashaParashat Trumah—details the building of the aron ha kodesh, the holy tabernacle, and the gifts the people of Israel were expected to offer. It specifies in precise detail the kind of wood the ark should be made out of (acacia) and how many cubits the curtains should be (which is 30 cubits long by 4 cubits wide). The world you will construct for yourself will not be so clearly laid out. The decisions you make won't be black and white. There won't be an instruction manual. But with the education and experiences you have gained here at JDS, with your JDS moral GPS, you have all the tools you need. And we know you will build something beautiful.

Class of 2019, Mazal Tov and good luck!

[1] Debbi Schnitzer Cooper '93 at the 2018 HOS.

*This is an excerption from Rabbi Malkus' full graduation speech

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