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By Steve Sadin
As Chicagoland Jewish High School (CJHS) student graduation speakers told their classmates to make the world a better place, the source of inspiration was clear — Martin Luther King.
Five students addressing their classmates quoted King in both English and Hebrew, encouraging them to hold firm to their vision as 38 seniors graduated from CJHS Wednesday, May 27, at the school’s Deerfield campus.
“Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy,'” said Rayna Gorstein of Long Grove as she gave the invocation.
Gorstein said after the ceremony that the message is a communal one, about helping people in the world just as she and her classmates have assisted each other in school.
Parker Weber of Buffalo Grove paraphrased the same quote from King, comparing it to the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam,” which he said means “repairing the world.”
The liberal quoting of King was no mistake, according to CJHS Academic Dean Bruce Scher. King’s words were written on the front of the program along with a quote from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Scher said the students chose the words.
“All of our seniors take Jewish studies and AP English,” Scher said. “They choose quotations from those courses that speak to their values that will help them make decisions in their lives.”
One expression of those values was the decision of Hannah Lynch and Jonathan Schrag, both of Highland Park, to give the Hebrew graduation speech together. Initially they were told they must compete with each other for the honor of delivering the address.
“Competing against one another went against the values of friendship, collaboration and community that we have learned over the past four years,” Schrag said, according to the English translation of the speech.
Lynch continued with the refrain already given by Gorstein and Morgan Michelson-Kelly of Skokie, who gave the English commencement address immediately before Schrag and Lynch offered theirs.
“We were inspired by these words Martin Luther King Jr. once said while addressing a conference about the Vietnam War in 1967,” Lynch said.
“All individuals have to stand up for what they believe in,” she said after the graduation. “We have to step up even when it’s not easy. That’s the only way we’ll make the world a better place.”
Not all the graduates were from the northern suburbs. Eliel Stofenmacher enrolled as a sophomore after meeting some students from CJHS when they were on a trip to his native Madrid, Spain. He has been living with a family in Northbrook while getting his high school education here. He will attend the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the fall.
“It was an opportunity I could not get in Spain,” said Stofenmacher, who will attend the Hebrew University in Jerusalem this fall. “I’m still trying to figure that out,” he added when asked if he would live in Israel, the U.S. or Spain after college.
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