Author’s note: Abby Finkelstein is my granddaughter and I couldn’t be more proud of her graduation address to her fellow graduates.
On Monday, June 11, SAR HS presented diplomas to the 128 graduates in its class of 2018.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark addressed the graduates and recognized the amazing teachers and staff of SAR. He then compared the current week’s parsha, telling of Korach’s rebellion, to the stories of Eldad and Meidad, explaining that Eldad and Meidad were striving for prophecy in the camp. They were trying to compete on the highest levels, to grow themselves, to get as close to Hashem as humanly possible. In contrast, Korach’s sense of equality derived from a desire to cut another person down to size; to Korach, making everyone equal meant limiting the possibilities of others. Moshe, the true leader, wanted the Jewish people to be a community of strivers, spiritual people using their capacities to become close to Hashem and to actualize God’s mission in the world. Moshe valued a community of people who would support each other.
“My dear graduates,” said Rabbi Harcsztark, “over the course of these years, you have created a very special community, a community where you have fostered a collective spirit of serious growth and exploration during good times—and you have supported each other during challenging times as well.”
Rabbi Harcsztark’s bracha to the graduates as they begin their life’s journey was: “May [you] live your lives as men and women on a mission, constantly growing and reaching, shaping and enriching, deepening your own lives and the lives of those around you through the language of the Jewish people—through Torah and mitzvot—and may the life missions that you undertake inspire the life missions of future generations… May you use your talents and strengths to make the world a better place.”
Of the 128 SAR HS graduates, 90 percent will be spending time in noted yeshivot in Eretz Yisrael next year, after which they will begin their studies in leading colleges and universities. SAR HS is particularly proud of those students who will be serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
As is the tradition at SAR HS, the seniors chose two students to speak at graduation who they felt would best represent them. Abby Finkelstein and Joe Block were the students chosen to deliver the graduation addresses: Abby in English and Joe in Hebrew.
Abby spoke about the culture of the class of 2018. This class of students has exemplified immense caring, support and strength for others. This past December, Abby’s dad, a young and vibrant husband and dad of four children, passed away after battling cancer for three and a half years. Becoming ill before Abby began ninth grade, her father, Robert, passed away on December 13, 2017.
As Rashi teaches, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him.” Do not let a person hit rock bottom when it may be too hard or too late to help, but give them strength when times are hard and you will be able to lift them back up. When Abby lost her dad, she said, “While it was impossible, I felt the support of my grade like a warm blanket wrapped around me...I was never alone; this phenomenal class of 2018 supported me, held me up and therefore showed me what it means to feel true hakarat hatov.”
Abby emphasized the tremendous gratitude she has for her classmates for the compassion, the love and support she received from so many different people. The web of support that these students created and have for each other will continue to influence their lives as they know they can always rely on their fellow classmates from the class of 2018.
Joe presented a scholarly Hebrew address and spoke about the courage of Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Yehudah, who exemplified what it takes to be a true leader when he daringly jumped into the treacherous waters of the Yam Suf, showing the rest of the nation that they must have faith in Hashem and follow him so that all the people could be saved.
Likewise, Joe emphasized the exceptional quality of the class of 2018, both individually and collectively, as a group of do-ers. “What makes this class unique is that as much as we love to talk and debate matters, and believe me we do, we consistently go the next step of actually making our ideal come to fruition. Much like Nachshon, we refuse to sit idly by when we see solvable problems remaining unsolved.”
Presenting specific contributions of the class of 2018, Joe noted the enhancement of ruach and school spirit this class brought to the school. He explained that the students “took ordinary events that had extraordinary potential and made them lively and fun for everyone else who gladly joined in.”
When some students were unsatisfied with the dynamic of a faculty-dominated Shacharit minyan, they reached out to the administration and created a new student-led minyan that will “last well beyond our time here.”
Of course, not to be overlooked was SAR’s first-ever varsity hockey championship this year, solved by an extremely motivated group of do-ers!
Joe called for a shout-out for seven brave future chayalim, who “refuse to stand on the sidelines” and have enrolled in the IDF in support of Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish people. Acknowledging the great challenges students will face in the US, in Israel and in the American Jewish community, Joe thanked SAR for providing the tools with which his classmates will be ready for the future. “We can all emulate Nachshon ben Aminadav and become leaders as we stand up for Israel on campus, carve out time to learn Torah and win ‘adult floor hockey championships’ along the way. We can channel the spirit we take from SAR HS to drive us forward into the future.”
By Yvette Finkelstein