By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Ilan Feldman never took his prepared remarks out of his pocket during the graduation ceremony for Torah Day School of Atlanta on Monday night, June 8.
Instead, the leader of Congregation Beth Jacob and rabbinic adviser to TDSA said he found all the inspiration he needed to address the packed Heritage Hall in the 51 graduating eighth-graders themselves — both the way they carried themselves during the processional into the room and the way they managed to avoid teetering over the edge of the stages on which their chairs were perched.
“When I saw them enter the room, it wasn’t a class. It was 51 individuals. And each one was distinct, and each one was beautiful,” Rabbi Feldman said, adding that he was moved to realize that an entire world entered the room each time another student walked in.
“Fifty-one universes entered this room, and 51 universes will leave this room,” he said, because of the students’ devotion to the Torah.
Without the Torah, Rabbi Feldman said, the world would determine what the students believe, think, wear and want. “The world is being swept by forces of conformity. … In the process, the individual neshama of each and every human being is being obliterated. The Torah is the only defense against losing the individuality of the human being. These students are being given the opportunity to retain and develop and sparkle as individual reflections of the Almighty above.”
He told the students that they think they are leaving something in graduating from Torah Day, but they are simply setting out on a path of devotion to G-d, the Torah and themselves.
Rabbi Feldman added that like the stages on which the students sat, where sliding a chair an inch could have sent a graduate tumbling over the edge, “in life itself slight moves can actually make a major difference.”
The Orthodox community behind Torah Day School has proved that effect by sacrificing for the good of the school and its students, the rabbi said. “This community has banded together to make it possible for each of these individuals to shine and sparkle. … Mazel tov to a community that stands for all the values manifest in this school.”
Federation CEO Michael Horowitz’s advice to the graduates also focused on the Jewish community of which they will play a growing role over the years. That community, he said, is we-centric, not me-centric.
The head of school, Rabbi Joshua Einzig, whose daughter Orli was among the graduates, used the Torah’s repeated countings of the Hebrews to remind the soon-to-be-high-schoolers that the Jews are a people who are finite but have the opportunity to become infinite, as long as we remember our place in the world.