“WE’VE DONE OUR BEST WITH YOU,” Rabbi Ammi Hirsch told our graduating high school seniors as they gathered in our sanctuary. “You have been given all the tools to lead productive Jewish lives — and to make a difference in the world. And this is it! From now on, Jewishly, you’re on your own.”
Then the graduates approached the ark to receive individual blessings from Rabbi Hirsch, who spoke quietly to each one before they left the bimah.
As part of our Religious School’s end-of-year siyyum ceremony, our clergy took the opportunity to honor not only our younger students, but also the 30 high school seniors who have been part of the Stephen Wise Free synagogue community for their formative years — some of them since they were tots at our Early Childhood Center.
“We wanted our high school graduates to reflect on their time at Stephen Wise, on how the community has impacted them, and to remember the special moments before they head off to wherever their journeys take them,” explained Rabbi Rena Rifkin, who heads our Religious School as director of youth education. “And we wanted younger Religious School students to see themselves as the future teens of the community — and see how we honor them and how they continue to be part of our synagogue.”
On a bittersweet note, our high school graduates were sent off with gifts to carry into the next chapters of their lives. In addition to blessings, each of them was given certificates signed by our clergy as tokens of their educational achievements along with travel editions of “Mishkan T’filah” generously donated by the Women’s Organization so they can stay connected to their Judaism wherever life takes them.
“It’s exciting to watch these kids bring their Jewish values out into the world…and it’s even more exciting for them to come back over the years and see how the seeds we planted have bloomed,” said Rabbi Rifkin.
To better prepare our high school students to live out and take pride in their Judaism in the next phases of their lives, Rabbi Rifkin and Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz teamed up to offer programming throughout the year — including a course on Israel and discussion of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses.
Jewish identity building is cumulative, says Rabbi Rifkin, and it breaks her heart when she sees Jewish education stopping at age 13. “You wouldn’t stop teaching math after seventh grade and you wouldn’t expect someone who skipped algebra to be able to do calculus,” she says. “It’s important that our kids keep going. A massive amount of development happens in the teenage years — that’s when you start really discovering who you are.”
If you’re interested in helping your children discover and deepen their Jewish identities, we invite you to learn more about our Religious School at swfs.org/rs.