Graduation 1998


We want to make this graduation talk as interesting and as up to date as today’s Lakeland Eagle or CNN news. The Eagle just moved to new quarters, in a beautiful building that uses state-of-the-art technology to prepare tomorrow’s news today. CNN is the world’s number one news source, used by governments to supplement their intelligence services, used by both sides in a number of local wars in Europe and Africa to get a grip on their situation, to learn where the front is and who won last night’s battles.


We are here to celebrate our graduation from the Temple religious school. A few years back there was a book on the best seller list that claimed that "everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten." Well, this can certainly be said for Jewish history: we celebrate events from the past which can be summed up like this: They tried to kill us all; they failed; let’s eat!


But seriously, now – we are not going to talk about the exodus from Egypt, or the exile from Jerusalem, or of the many many attacks upon our people through the ages, till the worst happened only in this century – the holocaust. We said we won’t talk about it, and already we mentioned it and it has had its effect on all of you. We shall talk of current events and of future events that can be predicted because of the clouds that are on the horizons.


This past couple of weeks we have all been hearing with mounting concern of the new nuclear arms race in Asia. First India and then Pakistan exploded nuclear devices at test sites. By the way, what is the difference between a ‘device’ and a ‘bomb?’ Anyhow, they did it, and we are all less safe because of it. Because India and Pakistan both have unstable and not at all reasonable and logical governments, the chance that they will use their new power to create a balance of terror is by no means sure. They could conceivably actually use the bomb on their neighbor if they figure the odds for survival to be in their favor.

Another scary aspect of this new threat to the world has to do with religion: Pakistan calls its nuclear device "the Islamic bomb." Moslems of the world may wish to unite around the bomb and explode the rest of humanity into oblivion. And who do you think will head the list for getting blown up? Of course, our fellow Jews in Israel. Can we sleep safely knowing that Pakistan may share their bomb with Iran and maybe Syria – and maybe even Lybia? The very thought of such a likelihood can prevent sleep for a year or two!


And as if that was not cause enough for alarm, give some thought to the home front. We are getting ever closer to prayers in the school. Prayers that will be, you know very well, Christian in nature and offensive to us Jews as well as to other minorities. Already we are pressured to join the Christian Athletic club, and ‘prayer by the pole,’ and other only semi-official religious activities. We are all aware of teachers who share their Christian religion with the students in ignorance of the fact that they set the non-participants apart. Will this threat to our standing in the school and in the community go away? Probably not. Probably it will increase, instead.


We are American Jews. Make no mistake about that. We were born here and we shall live here all of our lives. But we do feel a certain pride in thinking about Israel, the state of the Jews that our grandparents helped to establish some fifty years ago. Israel is a model nation in the middle east and a great success story in the community of nations. We think it is only right that our nation, the United States of America, should support the nation of our fellow Jews, Israel. For that nation is founded on the same ideals and principles, and deserves the support and admiration of our nation. Yet, in recent weeks we have seen a deterioration in the relations between the two governments, and this, too, concerns us.


Israel is a free and independent nation, and should not be bullied and dictated to by our government. Particularly not when it is quite evident that the other side to the dispute in the Middle East is the one that is not dealing honestly in the quest for peace. The statement by Hillary Clinton about the coming Palestinian state, and our President’s speech before the Arab American conference are clear signs that they are making a change from the policy that was pursued for the last fifty years.


So, what we have learned in kindergarten we shall continue to use. We wish to thank all our teachers who over the years introduced us to holidays and traditions, ceremonies and heros, great ideas and great ideals. We shall celebrate Sabbaths and holidays, we shall attend synagogue and maybe even take a trip to see and learn about Israel. However, above all, we must resolve to be pro-active Jews, concerned with our community, our nation and our people Israel. India and Pakistan may be on the other side of the globe – but they threaten us just as much as a Christian takeover of America.


We pledge ourselves to Judaism, to its principles of humanism and democracy, to its sense of justice and fair play, and to the concept of a close relationship to all other Jews. We shall do our best for our brothers when they are in need or in danger – as we know they would do for us if the shoe was on the other foot.



Graduation 1993


 Mark, Matt, Ben and Aaron: I must tell you that I am rather sad to see you end your formal Jewish education. This is so for many reasons, but above all this is so because I don't think that you are ready to face the world and survive as Jews. Please understand, I am not saying you will not survive -- I am just saying you are not ready. I am also keenly aware that I have no choice. You are leaving us, and we can either give you a send-off or watch silently as you depart the safe mooring to float away on a sea of cross-currents, whirlpools and swift turbulences the like of which you cannot even suspect yet in the idealistic and inexperienced optimism of youth.

 I know how you feel -- like Martin Luther King you are pronouncing "Free at last, Free at last, thank God, I'm Free at last..." But just look around you and you will see that Martin was wrong, and neither he nor his followers were free -- and because of the mistake of his pronouncement he is dead, and those who followed him are still in bondage! They are enslaved by apathy, by inactivity, by non-involvement, and by self deception. You, too, my dear graduates, face their fate, if you do not heed the warning.

 What is it that brought you to Temple Emanuel Religious School? Your statements suggested that it was the desire of your parents and the threat of some kind of retribution if you should not attend that brought you to here -- that may sound amusing, but I am certain (and I want you to recognize) that it was not a wicked form of parental punishment, and I don't think it was worth mentioning at this time. For young adults it is not funny -- it is sad! Your parents had a very good reason for sending you here, and for bearing with your complaints all these years and still insisting that you must continue to attend.

 In a word, they sent you -- no, the brought you -- because they were before you, and you shall be long after you leave them, Jewish. They wanted you to know and to understand that. They wanted you to learn all about it, and to become familiar with the how and the when of its celebration.

 You learned much more than holidays and the holocaust -- or you should have. You learned, each of the four of you in particular, and I know this to be so because I have invested of my time and of my energy to teach you, how to behave as a Jew. I trained you for Bar Mitzvah, and each of you performed admirably. It was not a flash in the pan. You did not learn by heart, to repeat like a parrot. I taught you, deeply and thoroughly. Though you may have forgotten some of it, it is in you, dormant, and it will come out when you need it -- and I pray to God that you bring it out soon, and often.

 You are young men, and young men's fancy does not go to synagogues and services and contemplation and Godly things. I know this. Young men think of scoring -- in whatever it is that they undertake at the moment. They want to score high in their favorite sports, they want to score high in the S.A.T.s -- and above all they want to score high with the girls... However, life has a way that is both mysterious and very plain and simple. The words of the poet Alfred Housman describe it best:

When I was one and twenty I heard a wise man say,

"Give crowns pounds and guineas, but not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies, but keep your fancy free..."

But I was one and twenty, no use to talk to me.

When I was one and twenty I heard him say again,

"The heart out of the bosom was never given in vain;

Tis paid with sighs aplenty, and sold for endless rue."

And now I'm two and twenty, and Oh, 'tis true, 'tis true!


 Well, Mark, Matt, Ben and Aaron -- you are on your way to being two and twenty (even if you have a ways to go, yet), and I am here to tell you that your heart is a Jewish heart, and that if you give your heart to love and it breaks, it is one thing, but if you give away your Jewish heart -- you will lose a part of your very being that cannot be replaced and cannot be mended and healed. You Judaism, and the Judaism of your entire generation and all the generations yet to come is in danger. It is threatened by the very freedom earned by the generation of your fathers, and their fathers before them. They suffered a physical threat of anti-Semitism, and they overcame it and bequeathed to us a sense security in being different. What a shame it would be if we would give up our identity precisely because they have earned us the right to be different.

 And so I pray for you, Mark, Matt, Ben and Aaron -- I pray that you continue to grow and mature, that the day may soon dawn when you are ready to begin a new era of Jewish education, when you approach religious education as a thirsty traveller arrived at the well. Drink to your health, drink to your survival. And ours, too. For it is 'mekor kha'yim' -- the fountainhead, the very source of life!

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