The Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School is sending 20 of the 22 students who graduated Tuesday, May 23, to Israel to study or join the Israel Defense Forces.

The Class of 2017 was the last AJA class to start high school at Yeshiva Atlanta, which merged with Greenfield Hebrew Academy to form AJA in the summer of 2014.

The 22 graduates also are the last to complete high school at AJA’s Raymond Drive campus in Doraville; the expansion of the Northland Drive campus in Sandy Springs will be ready to accommodate all students from preschool through high school in August.

“We have accomplished so much this year,” AJA Head of School Rabbi Ari Leubitz told the crowd at AJA’s auditorium.

AJA Head of School Rabbi Ari Leubitz congratulates the 22 AJA Upper School graduating seniors on their hard work.

He noted the high school’s mitzvah mission to Azerbaijan before Passover to package matzah for the Jewish community, the trip to Israel in April to compete in an international safe-cracking physics tournament, and the strong performance at the regional tech fair in January, which saw two seniors, Dan Jutan and Shaun Regenbaum, win their categories to reach the state fair in March.

“It has truly been an amazing and productive year, and it has been an honor and a privilege to watch our students grow and become ready to leave us,” Rabbi Leubitz said.

Dan Jutan gives a spirited d’var Torah on Bamidbar.

Jutan and fellow senior Ezra Blaut, who started a YouTube channel this year called Half-Decent Divrei Torah to discuss the weekly parsha, gave their take on the week’s portion, Bamidbar, for the final time as AJA students.

“We were inspired by this week’s parsha, in which G-d tells Moses to take a census of the Jewish people while they are wandering in the desert, so we took our own census of the 2017 AJA class,” they said. “There is so much talent and diversity among these 22 incredible people that we can probably keep talking about them all day. Today, this little group of ours is saying goodbye and joining something bigger. We are going to be let loose on the world as descendants of those in this week’s parsha, B’nai Yisrael.”

Commencement speaker Martin Lowenberg, a Michigan resident and Holocaust survivor whose parents and younger twin brothers were killed by the Nazis, added perspective to the d’var Torah by lecturing the students on the importance of being Jewish and their luck at being able to freely practice their Judaism.

Naomi Moosai smiles as she reflects on four years of high school at AJA.

“Follow the path that your parents have laid out for you,” Lowenberg said. “That path of Yiddishkeit, that path of study. I think back to what happened to all the other families that would have loved to be in your shoes right now who can no longer speak and who can no longer move. Like my two little brothers, who died in Auschwitz in 1944. Those children that died did not have a chance to graduate, to study, to become parents, to become grandparents or famous people. How lucky you are to think of what the future will hold for you.”

AJA Class of 2017

Jonathan Ethan Bashary
Yehuda Benschitrit
Joshua Meir Bland
Judah Isaac Blanks
Ezra Shalom Blaut

Thelet Bunder
Maxwell Ross Cohen
Rivkah Orah Cohen
Dustin Leor Dayani
Yeshaya Hirsch
Joshua Leo Italiaander
Ruby Violet Jacobs
Dan Dov Jutan
Mikhael Reuvan Khandadash
Naomi Moosai
Hannah Ida Pincus (co-valedictorian)
Brooke Aviva Ratner
Shaun Ryan Regenbaum (co-valedictorian)
Daniel Lev Shapiro
Aden Shmuel
Rina Eve Sobel
Zohar Wittenberg

Hannah Pincus says that, like any good student, she studied as many valedictory speeches as possible on YouTube before putting hers together.

Photos by David R. Cohen