The entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the most
important thing is not to be afraid.
–Rabbi Nachman of Braslav
To discover firm standing ground, it is necessary to explore, to stumble, even to fall, certainly to survive the chaotic vibrations of a world that refuses to be.
–Dr. Aviva Zornberg, The Beginnings of Desire
The following is the speech by a Natalie E., a member of the
Class of 2017 at the commencement ceremony last May.
Last year, during our studies of Bereshit, we read a piece written by Rabbi Dov Linzer in which he likens the banishment from Eden to Adam and Eve’s emergence into independence. God released them into a world that was theirs to navigate and to discover. They were to forge their own path and build a better world. Instead of the firm ground of Eden, Adam and Eve found themselves in a new reality to which they had to adjust.
My classmates and I alike find ourselves on the very path traversed by Adam and Eve. We too are on the brink of independence. Rochelle Zell Jewish High School is our Eden, our firm ground from which we are emerging into an unknown future.
In 2013, we entered Chicagoland Jewish High School bright-eyed and excited, though nonetheless inexperienced in the realm of high school. For the next four years, we studied Homer and Nevi’im, Shakespeare and Torah, Dickinson and Talmud. We sang nigunim, joined sports teams, and ate countless bagels. We forged a strong community that has been our support for four years. However, the ground beneath us has begun to shake. We have gained sustenance from the Tree of Knowledge. It is our turn to leave Eden and to find ourselves as individuals.
Aviva Zornberg writes in The Beginnings of Desire, that “To discover firm standing ground, it is necessary to explore, to stumble, even to fall, certainly to survive the chaotic vibrations of a world that refuses to be.” As we feel the earth beneath us begin to shake, as we try to pull it firmly back beneath our feet, we will explore, we will stumble, we will fall and get back up again.
As students at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, exploration is not foreign to our experience. Our peers and teachers alike have challenged us to explore our ambitions, our passions, and our abilities to the utmost extent. However, exploration becomes all the more difficult when we find ourselves in a community that has yet to be built. It is harder to venture into the unknown when one cannot return to what is known and comfortable. It is impossible to turn back the clock. This is the position we find ourselves in now.
Of course, the Rochelle Zell Jewish High School community will always be there for us. Yet, our days of davening together, eating lunch together, and learning together as a collective whole have drawn to a close. What has become known over the past four years has gone, leaving excitement and uncertainty in its wake. We have the responsibility to shape the communities of our future. As Zornberg aptly states, in rebuilding, it is likely that we will stumble along the way. Perhaps, even fall. Eventually, we will pick ourselves up and find firm ground.
Standing at the end of a known period, we are faced with the start of a new period of unknowns. We must be fearless, ready to shape the world that we want to live in. We cannot be afraid. As Rabbi Nachman of Braslav states, “The entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
On behalf of the class of 2017, I want to thank all of our teachers for helping us become the people we are today. You have not only taught us valuable lessons in the classroom, but have taught us how to lead productive and meaningful lives as Jews and as members of the global community.
Lastly, to the Class of 2017: Today marks the end of our years learning as a collective whole. Whether you have been immersed in this community since kindergarten, or transferred in the middle of high school, each and every one of you has contributed to the experience of our class. The Rochelle Zell Jewish High School Class of 2017 has a strong bond and a contagious spirit. Although we will no longer spend our days studying, laughing, and singing Halleluyah together, our class will continue to connect for years to come. Even if we are not together, we will always be together in our hearts. I hope that you will find luck and success in all that you will do. Mazel tov, Rochelle Zell Jewish High School Class of 2017.
"Clearly, there are the lessons that are in our textbooks, like algebra, chemistry and Spanish. But at RZJHS, we also learned essential midot, or values, such as diligence and morality, that you can’t find in a textbook."