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Parting Remarks to the Class of 2018

Vidal Sassoon was fond of saying, “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Class of 2018, shortly we will hear of your individual accomplishments and awards earned by your hard work and effort both academic and non-academic and tomorrow morning many of you will receive recognition for your athletic achievements as well. Let me be one of the first to congratulate you for all that you have accomplished while attending Posnack School’s Fischer High.

However, very soon you will be leaving here and going “out there”… to chart your own course. All to college, but some first to a post-high school gap-year program in Israel, and one to a Yeshiva in Crown Heights. Then on to a career, marriage and building your own family; but remember what Ellen DeGeneres said, “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the wood and you’re lost and you see a path, then, by all means, you should follow that path.” “Going out there, out of high school” quipped Jon Stewart, “is unfortunate, yet truly exciting. Your life from now on has no core curriculum. The entire world out there is one ginormous elective.”

So with this in mind let me share with you one important idea I learned from the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of blessed memory. The lesson goes all the way back to our first patriarch, Avraham Avinu. Speaking of himself, Avraham said to the denizens of Canaan, גר ותושב אנכי עמכם “a stranger and a resident I am with you.” There is one glaring problem with this פסוק. The problem with this verse is that it contains an open contradiction. Simply, how can you be both “a stranger” and “a resident” at the same time?

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that Avraham had a dual identity. As a resident he would share with the other Canaanites in their concern for their welfare, upholding the dignity of others in the society, irrespective of their ethnic diversity. He participated with them in their pursuit of commercial progress and industry. He abided by their civil laws, showing loyalty to the government, he even went to war and restored a king of Canaan.

At the same time, however, he had a second identity. His religious and spiritual practices, his philosophy, truths, and observances were different and unique. In short, in the realm of his faith, he remained a stranger. His solidarity with his fellow Canaanites in secular matters did not imply his readiness to relinquish any aspects of his religious uniqueness.

The Torah tells us about Avraham because he is a model and paradigm for us living many centuries later. Jews throughout the ages, in every country that we have lived, when afforded the opportunity, became full and productive members of their societies, advancing the arts and music, literature and philosophy, business, science, and technology. Jews have always been at the forefront of social justice standing up for the welfare of others, and politically active, attaining positions of high rank in government. This was true in the past and this has certainly been our experience in America.

So I want to challenge each of you today, it is the same challenge presented to our patriarch Avraham. That as you go “out there,” into the world at large, that you don’t shed your spiritual Jewish identity at the expense and in the process of carrying out your responsibilities as citizens of the world. You can have the best of both worlds and when you do, people will respect you more for it.

It has been said, “You can Google an answer, you can Google a career, and perhaps you can even Google a mate…but you can’t Google to find what is in your heart.” That is found solely within you.

I pray and encourage each and every one of you, as you follow your passion, keep the lesson of Avraham in the forefront of your minds as you continue on the next phase of your life’s journey and know that we will miss you!

Mazal tov to each of you, your families and Mazal Tov to the entire faculty and administration on the graduation of the Class of 2018

Shabbat Shalom