Our country is going through a challenging time right now. I realize that we are in the midst of combating a pandemic, a battle against a virus which has profoundly affected our lives.
You missed being physically together these past few months, to engage in those special end of year traditions on campus, and to embark on your long awaited capstone journey to Israel. I know that these sacrifices have been difficult. Yet these disappointments pale in comparison to what many of us witnessed in the media recently. I’m talking about the racial injustices that have been brought to the forefront of our consciousness in the past week.
I need you to fix it.
I know that you have learned about issues of race in America throughout your years at Yavneh. Now I need you to take action.
I need you to fix it.
Why am I asking YOU, a group of 13 and 14 year olds, to repair a problem that has permeated this country for over four hundred years??
Our sages teach: If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. (OK, our sages never actually said that – it was a woman named Bette Reese – but it’s still relevant)
If there has ever been a class to embrace that adage, it is this class of 2020.
You have the passion and tenacity that rivals that of a loud and determined mosquito. I think it might be your class spirit animal.
You organized a walkout after Parkland.
You vocally disagreed with a prominent community Rabbi who wanted to recognize your donation publicly – citing Maimonides’ teachings about the value of anonymous giving.
You created and led a social justice Shabbat in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
You argued relentlessly and on a regular basis with your teachers and with school administration any time you perceived the slightest inequity in the treatment of students in your class.
Rabbi Hahn Tapper recently shared with me that she doesn’t remember another class who’s Jewish identity is more tied up with their passion for social justice.
That passion reflects the strength of those devoted Yavneh teachers who helped nurture you – thank you Yavneh educators.
Your parents too are role models for doing the right thing. They stand up for you and your needs and show you how THEY support causes that are important to them. I am proud to announce that this year’s eighth grade parents raised and donated over $50,000 towards Yavneh’s Emergency tuition fund. Kol hakavod and thank you to the families of the class of 2020 for leading by example and for giving a gift that will allow the children of families whose finances have been adversely affected by the pandemic to continue learning as part of the Yavneh community!
Class of 2020, I would like to send you off with the charge to heed the calling of our time and use your passion to repair the racial injustice in our country. I encourage you to be driven and guided through these acts of justice by the power of the Jewish values taught at Yavneh, values that you will hopefully continue to live and learn throughout your life.
I leave you to be inspired by the words of three superheroes:
In the Talmud, Rabbi Tarfon says: “It is not up to you to finish the task of repairing the world, but you cannot walk away from the responsibility of trying.”
Former enslaved person and founder of the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman wrote: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Finally, Marvel’s Captain America teaches us that: “The strength of this country isn’t in buildings of brick and steel. It’s in the hearts of those who have sworn to fight for its freedom.”
I know that each and every one of you has made a world of difference to Yavneh. I look forward to seeing the difference that you make to the future of our world. Now go fix it. By the power vested in me by the Board of Directors and the State of California, I now pronounce you Yavneh graduates. Go BLAZE!