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Shoresh: Looking At Things From Different Perspectives

By Hannah Garelick

The following is Hannah Garelick's graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville. The graduation was June 5, 2016.

Having been at Shoresh for five years, I have had my fair share of interesting, engaging and thought provoking classes, discussion and teachers. However, one text that we studied this year in Maryana’s Tanach class that stuck with me was Koheleth, or Ecclesiastes. Koheleth was credited to Solomon. The theory is that Koheleth was written at the end of his life, to contrast Song of Songs, that is said to have been written when he was a young man. As we studied Koheleth this year, it became evident that this was not necessarily the most uplifting piece of text. Much of what is written about in Koheleth is struggling with the realities and fears of the end of life. Essentially, it questions the meaning of life. However, something that we struggled through as a class was how contradictory Koheleth was at times. In chapter two Koheleth writes, “But I also realized that the same fate awaits them both. So I reflected: The fate of the fool is also destined for me; to what advantage, then, have I been wise?” (2:14:15). He tries to understand the meaning of being smart, when at this point of his life it seems that he has the same fate as any “fool.” However, later in chapter four, Koheleth writes, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king…”(4:13). Even though just two chapters prior, he asked himself what the point of being wise was, he then says that it is better to be wise in your young age. For Koheleth, who was said to be extremely smart and thoughtful, to write a whole piece that contradicts himself seems like he was starting to lose himself. Even some of my classmates had a distaste for the contradictions that are written in this book. However, as we continued to discuss it more, I came to appreciate the ways in which he contradicts himself. I found that the way that Koheleth was able to disagree with himself is very natural and was a way that I was able to connect to the text. I was able to understand the contradictions, because I believe that everyone at some point contradicts themselves, and I saw Koheleth writing and essentially making it okay to say things that don’t always match up. The level of conversation that we were having in this class showed me that those who are able to appreciate and understand that it is okay to be contradictory are the ones that are thinking at a very high level. To be able to look at things from different perspectives and views, even if that means you contradict something you previously said, is one that shows growth, progress and continued learning. I have seen this in my years at Shoresh. The ability for people to say something, hear others speak and then later say something completely different is the type of growth, progress and continued learning that is done here at Shoresh. I want to thank my parents who made my Jewish education as important as my secular one, and I’m sorry for all the times that I made a fuss about coming to Shoresh, because inevitably every Sunday night I would come home and tell them something new I had learned. The Shoresh board and staff and all the teachers I have had through the years. Thank you for making this an intriguing and different learning environment and for letting us, especially me, contradict myself.

A Comfortable Place to Learn and Grow 

By Jessica Kaplan

The following is Jessica Kaplan’s graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville. 

 As a freshman switching to Public School, after being at a Jewish Day School my entire life, going to Shoresh was not a question of debate, nor was it unfamiliar or uncomfortable. With in my first year, the high school planned a special Purim event, where each teacher shares a unique perspective and teaches a cool aspect of the Purim story. As a 9th grader, I listened to Maryana, a Shoresh teacher share her opinion, which I will reference later in my speech. As a freshman I didn’t agree with Maryana, however I didn’t voice my opinion because I didn’t know how to articulate it nor did I know if what I had to say would be accepted, given the fact that I was challenging a teacher. Flash forward to my senior year. As a class we were studying Purim once again with Maryana. We read p’sookim and studied the text, hearing different viewpoints as everyone asked questions and provided insight. When we got to one section, I knew I had heard it before as a freshman. Once again, Maryana gave her thoughts and argument about the topic, and once again, I still didn’t agree. However this time I shot my hand up, ready to argue- I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew the environment I was in was accepting and craving new ideas and confrontation. The idea we argued about was as follows. In the beginning of the Purim story, Haman is asked to ride through the streets and have everyone bow down to him to show the king’s power. However, Mordachi, being a good Jew that he is, refused to bow down. This then sets off Haman, causing him to persuade King Achaveruas to kill all the Jewish people. Maryana believes that Mordechai should never have been there in the first place. If he knew it would cause conflict, Mordechi should have removed himself from the situation, gone about his day, and come back to the palace courtyards when Haman was done ordering everyone to bow, because he didn’t have to be there. However, my opinion differed. I believed that Mordechai should have stayed, challenged the authority, and fought for what he believed in. Without that mentality, nothing would ever get changed in the world. We must stand up for what we believe in if we want to make a change. We have to be active, not passive. We have to be persistent and willing to take the risk. Maybe I’m a just a teenager who has high hopes and wild dreams. Maybe Maryana has seen too much and knows better to not risk a potential genocide just to get your way. Whatever it may be, we did not agree, but that was okay. Shoresh has provided me with a well rounded education. I have loved my Mishnah, Rabbinic Stories, and Lifecycles classes with Rabbi Abramson. Along with our fangirling over Woody Allen movies and finding the deep meanings behind every artsy film ever. I have taken great interest in Jewish history and Zionism with Mr Sims. I took my newly found Zionistic knowledge and love with me to Israel this past summer, as I echoed my Shoresh learning onto them. And finally, I have found creative ways to incorporate my Tanakh studies with Maryana into my everyday life, but especially into my leadership positions with my youth group, BBYO. Since the beginning of Freshman year, just arrived and felt uncomfortable voicing my opinion, Shoresh has become a comfortable place to learn, grow, voice opinions, and have arguments. It is such a special thing to debate with my classmates and teachers in an environment which encourages individual thought and self exploration. Things I have learned throughout my time at Shoresh have proven useful both at school and within BBYO. I was able to take the same debate my class had about Purim, to my chapter and incorporate the lesson into a programming along with Stand UP and Jewish education. I have grown, I have formed opinions, I have changed my opinions, I understand that there is so much I don’t know, and most importantly, I am committed to furthering my Jewish education, and furthering my children’s Jewish education. I would love to say thanks and express my gratitude to my teachers who have gotten me to where I am today, Rabbi Oreski, Rabbi Feld, Mr Sims, Rabbi Abramson, and Maryana. Thank you to the board for working tirelessly on the student’s behalf, and a huge shout out to my classmates who I have become friends with over the years, who I have learned from, and who I share inside jokes with. And thank you to my parents who at first made me go to Shoresh, however it turned into me wanting to go to Shoresh.

The Best Ideas Are Ones That Have Been Poked and Prodded

by Jonah Loeb

The following is Jonah Loeb's graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville.  

In religion as in life there are some questions that cannot be answered. Esoteric questions about who we are and what is our purpose. Shoresh has always challenged me to answer these questions but it took me until this year to finally realize it. I came to Shoresh in eighth grade. There, I learned the fundamentals, Hebrew, history, and began to understand the basics of prayer. What this knowledge evolved into over my time here is the ability to challenge what I have learned and form my own ideas. My classes have evolved from discussing a chapter in a textbook to spending whole classes on a single verse, debating it, everyone with their own opinions. One moment that stands out to me as an example of this transition came when I was in 10th grade in Rabbi Feld’s class. He offered the class a problem, one that some of you who have also had him may remember. He described an island where two groups were fighting. He told us that we were viewing this island from the perspective of God and our job was to stop the conflict. The catch was that we could not reveal ourselves. We paired up and spent the entire class trying to think of a way. We talked about storms and about lightning but each time Rabbi Feld would find some problem that we hadn't accounted for. Finally, at the end of the class, he told us the solution he had come up with: find a person to act as a prophet and without directly communicating with him, send signals of pairs, through animals and through nature. What just seemed like a riddle to us at the time has reformed itself as one of the first moments at Shoresh I was challenged to answer a question that didn't really have an answer and where I was forced to create an opinion and defend it, hearing and learning from others. Fast forwarding to this year in Rabbi Abramson’s class. To the parents who might not know, Rabbi Abramson’s class is based around a packet of papers based around a theme. They include anything from passages from the Torah, to quotes from the Mishna, to modern day Conservative and Orthodox commentary. This year, focusing on all aspects of Jewish life, we moved slowly through the material, not by fault of the material or of the teacher, of course, but because studying the modern outlook on life after death, or on homosexuality, and understanding how these ideas developed, we found ourselves going back and debating, discussing, and analyzing. Each one of us trying to find our own answers to these constantly developing ideas. So where does that leave me along with the rest of my class at the end of our Shoresh careers? I leave today a more critical person. I've found that the best ideas are the ones that have been poked and prodded, matured under the scrutiny of others. I know I can take this process and continue to grow my Jewish education and opinions as I head off to college. Lastly and most importantly, I learned that there are some questions that simply do not have an answer, but that should never stop you from trying.

Each Stitch of the Basket

By Sam Slater

The following is Sam Slater’s graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville.

My shoreshim in Shoresh are very deep and something of which I am very proud. I am the fourth Slater to graduate from Shoresh and I still remember my first Shoresh class – I was in 5th grade and had to go to class with my brothers instead of staying home alone. As the youngest, I have made distinct choices all of my life to distinguish myself from my older brothers – I never played lacrosse seriously nor continued the dynasty of USY leadership at Beth El, for example. However, I knew that I couldn’t let Shoresh fall to the wayside in my quest for individuality. The stories that my brothers brought home from Shoresh seemed both impenetrable and enchanting to my younger self, and something that I knew I needed. Now reflecting on six years dedicated to this place, I can only think of a story that Maryana told us just a few weeks ago, which I hope she won’t mind me sharing. While in high school in Iran, she questioned her mother about the way they spent their money. While other families bought summer homes in the mountains and drove the nicest cars, Maryana’s family sent her to the best private school and spent vacations in the great museums of Europe. Maryana told us it wasn’t until after the Iranian Revolution, when she was living in Jerusalem and studying at Hebrew University, that her mother came to visit her and began listing off what everyone had lost in the Revolution. Despite all of this, the Harounis hadn’t lost a thing, because their investment was in Maryana’s development, which could never be lost. I understand this all the more this spring, at a time of transition after experiencing my own family’s losses. At each of my brothers’ graduations I had a different grandmother sitting beside me at Ohr Kodesh. Now all that I have left are stories, both of my late matriarchs and of my time at Shoresh, and unsurprisingly these two influences on my life have led me to similar places. When my father’s mother died three months ago, we brought back the basket that had been used in my parents’ Navajo wedding ceremony. Each stitch of the basket is like a different story, a different lesson, and different way of looking at the world. These past six years at Shoresh have been like adding a new stitch with every class. Every Sunday night I come home with something new that feels like I’m completing and fulfilling a stitch. Navajo way, the basket represents your thought process, which always ends with hope. And it is in hope that I am leaving Shoresh, because I know that the stitches formed here will help hold me together for a long time to come.

Free Will in Kohelet

By Nathan Zimmerberg

The following is Nathan Zimmerberg's graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville.

I am going to start by talking about Kohelet. In chapter 9, Kohelet writes, “For all this I noted and I ascertained all this: that the actions of even the righteous and the wise are determined by God. Even love! Even hate! Man knows none of these in advance – none!” We talked about this in Maryana’s class for about a month. We discussed different aspects, including how our actions are influenced, how our parents can affect our choices, and other examples of free will in the Tanakh. He seems to be saying that because people can’t predict love or hate how can they have free will. A recent scientific study shows that part of why people like or don’t like things is from their parents. Male mice were given a scent of acetophenone, a fruity smell, and then electrically shocked (Hughes). Then the children of the mice grew up in isolation from their father but still feared the smell even though they had never experienced it before (Hughes). While people are not mice, things that happened to our parents affect us before we were born, like what kind of food we hate. Elsewhere in the Tanakh People have free will. Adam and Eve are given a choice to eat from the forbidden tree. Later the Jewish people often make a choice that God disagrees with, for example, when they make a golden calf and pray to it. So it is clear that there is an idea that people have free will. Today many people believe that they can control many aspects of their lives. But it is hard to know when you will have certain emotions. Also Kohelet says that whatever choices you make you will still die and a single mistake can ruin your plans. Kohelet often contradicts himself. Kohelet often gives advice, telling people to not worry about wealth or knowledge because they don’t matter. Why is he giving advice if people can’t control their actions? I think that what Kohelet is mainly saying is that we have no control over the two most important moments in our lives: birth and death. In other decisions people have free will. But it is often impossible to know the outcomes of our choices and what impact they will have on our happiness, wealth or wisdom. If you can’t make an informed choice, is it really a choice. Kohelet often talks about being remembered or gaining wealth and wisdom for himself but he doesn’t talk about kindness and caring for others. Maybe we have the most free will when we decide to agreeing to help others and in relationships with other people. But have little free will to make decisions about our world, our emotions, and our existence. Shoresh has been an amazing experience for me. I learned things from each teacher. I learned about the importance of history and the high holidays from Gary Simms. I learned about Talmudic stories from Rabbi Abramson and how Jewish viewpoints on parts of life are never straightforward and are evolving and complex. From Maryana I learned how to appreciate the translation and the different viewpoints of the writer as well as the beauty of the Tanakh. From Shoresh I appreciated studying a text very closely and discussing and arguing about it with the other students and teachers. I would like to thank the Shoresh teachers, Gary Simms, Maryana Harouni, and Rabbi Abramson, and all of the volunteer Board of Directors. Also, I would like to thank my parents and my classmates. I learned from all the other viewpoints of the other students. I know Shoresh is a foundation for a life of Jewish learning.