Above: Ilene and Jon Miller respond to the tribute to them at the Temima graduation June 16. (Photo by R.M. Grossblatt)

By Tova Norman

For years Ilene Miller has attended the graduation ceremony of Temima, the Richard and Jean Katz High School for Girls, because she was inspired by the students and the school.

“Never did I imagine that I would be a part of it,” she said in her tribute response at the graduation ceremony Thursday, June 16.

Miller and her husband, Jon Miller, were honored at the Temima graduation for their contributions to the school.

Nearly 200 people attended the event honoring the 10 graduates and the Millers in Congregation Beth Jacob’s Heritage Hall.

In their tribute response, the Millers explained that neither of them grew up in communities with Jewish day schools. Jon Miller said that growing up in Kentucky, he did not have another Jewish family in town, but he did have The Beatles. And it was a Beatles song that kept coming to mind when he thought about Temima: “All You Need Is Love.”

“Love of G-d, love of Torah, love of self-potential and love of giving to others,” he said.  “As the name Temima implies, Mrs. (Miriam) Feldman builds a complete and perfect school. You are all an inspiration to Ilene and I.”

In his charge to the Class of 2016, Congregation Ariel Rabbi Binyomin Friedman, a teacher at Temima, said the Millers should also be an inspiration to the graduates.

Rabbi Friedman teaches a weekly course on Jewish communal issues for Temima seniors, who examine how the Jewish people handled tough issues over the centuries.

“Soon you will be making these decisions,” he told the graduates. “You’re the ones. That is why it’s important to understand what has gone on before us.”

He told the graduates to keep images in their minds of kedushah (holiness), such as:

  • Rabbi Elchonon Bunim Wasserman, who never abandoned his commitment to the Torah even as he was taken to his death by the Nazis.
  • Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the former head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease but continued to lead the school, teach and put on tefillin each morning, all without any medication.
  • The teachers at Temima.

“Each and every one of your teachers is trying to give you the experience of Har Sinai,” the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Rabbi Friedman said.

Finally, he said, they should look at the Millers.

“Look at what they do and how they spend their time,” he said, pointing out that they attend Torah classes throughout the city, that Jon Miller attends minyan each morning, and that they attend simchas, dedications and siyums (celebrations of Torah learning) throughout the community. “All of the things that express our values, our Torah aspirations, the Millers will be there.”

The rabbi added: “They are people who have chosen to dedicate themselves to G-d, Torah and the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Friedman told the graduates that when they are faced with the challenging images of the world, they should close their eyes and “conjure up kedushah.”

“Those images will stand you in good stead and able to make the right decisions,” he said. “Kedushah: That is the image that you will take away from Temima into your lives.”

As this year’s graduation class transitions into life outside Temima, the school will transition to a new assistant principal. Assistant Principal Judy Limor is leaving after 11 years to take a position as the assistant head of school at the GLOBE Academy.

Richard Cook, Temima’s history teacher, explained what Limor meant to the teachers. “She brings new ideas to old teachers,” he said. “I could never have been as effective as I am in reaching the students without her help. It’s hard to imagine a Temima High School without Mrs. Limor.”

But Limor said she’s not saying goodbye. “Over the years we have become family, and family doesn’t say goodbye,” she said. “Temima will always hold a place in my heart.”

Each year, Temima graduates who are interested in speaking are given the opportunity to address the crowd. Six graduates chose to do so this year.

Danielle Gershon spoke about changing old habits. “My experience in high school showed me that I have the powers to create new initiatives.”

Tziporah Kaplan spoke about acting with courage, even in the face of difficult situations. “Acting with courage is hard; that is a fact. But hard is not bad.”

Miriam Stein spoke about how a catalyst can change a person. For her, that catalyst was Temima. “Temima helped bring out my potential.”

Chaya Chana Freitag spoke about how seeing G-d’s hand in your daily life can help overcome stress. “Even though I can’t control what will happen, I know what will happen, G-d wanted to.”

Ruthie Friedman spoke about the process of becoming an adult and writing her own story, as well as how her support system, family, school and community helped her write the first chapters of her story. “Guess who is making the decisions now,” she said.

Devorah Rachel Levitt spoke about being a positive force in the world. She said she needs to have “positive thoughts, trust in G-d and self-acceptance, so when I’m squeezed, love comes out.”

At the end of the speeches, Head of School Miriam Feldman presented each graduate with her diploma and a final personalized message.

Jean Katz, who usually helps Feldman present the diplomas, attended the ceremony with her husband, Richard, but she did not assist with the diplomas because of an injury. Instead, she was presented with a flower, while Limor held her place for next year.

“This is always a difficult moment for me, as each girl has become entwined in my heart,” Feldman said.

As Ilene Miller said earlier, that love is evident.

“I’m always in awe of how Mrs. Feldman’s team teaches with such love,” she said.