Reflections on Hebrew High School Graduation – post by Lauren Smith, 12th Grade Fairmount Temple Brickner Award Winner

This blog post is excerpted from the thoughts shared by 2013 Religious School graduate Lauren Smith at the May 6, 2013 Graduation and Evening Worship Service, led by the entire class. Lauren Smith was selected to share these thoughts at graduation as a result of her having been chosen as the 12th grade winner of the Rabbi Barnett Brickner award, the highest award shared with a high school student at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. We encourage you to respond below, or to share or post Lauren’s words, and let others know of the feelings and community engendered in continued study in religious school through High School.

I am proud to represent the 2013 graduating class of the Fairmount Temple Religious School I started coming to Fairmount Temple in third grade, and it has had a huge impact on my life since. I began my Jewish experience here through the parent-child Hebrew classes. It was very fun learning side by side with my mom, and meeting other Jewish kids like myself. I learned many important things in these years and even though I only remember some of the conversational Hebrew- like chatool means cat and kelev means dog, the important things will follow me through the rest of my life.

One of the more important things I’ve learned is Tikkun Olam which is about “repairing the world” through human actions. By being a part of CLEFTY, our temples youth group, I’ve been able to practice this idea. In CLEFTY we do a lot of volunteering and we work together to help out our community. There are no down sides to helping people. It makes you feel better while you’re helping others feel better. Tikkun Olam is a beautiful tradition and something I will always practice.

I’ve learned about Judaism not only in the classroom, but also in services. When I was a child, services were always a tough time, especially for my mom who had to keep reminding me to hold still and be quiet every five minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t truly understand the meaning of prayer when I was younger. As I began maturing, I was able to stay still, listen and partake in the service without constant reminders from my mother. Although I could focus on the prayers, I never fully understood what each prayer meant.

Yet I think that is an importance piece of prayer that I was missing. Reciting a prayer doesn’t mean anything, unless you mean what you’re saying. It wasn’t until recently that I began understanding what these prayers meant, and in turn I began learning about what it meant to be Jewish. I may not know everything about Judaism yet, but I’m willing to learn about it as much as I can, and that’s what truly matters. The passion to learn means a lot more than knowing.

Personally, my favorite prayer is the Mourner’s Kaddish. I still haven’t completely mastered every line of it, but I’m close! hopefully I’ll have it down soon. The Kaddish is my favorite prayer for three different reasons. The first is because when I went away to GUCI, a Jewish summer camp in Indiana, for the first time we had services everyday. When it came time to say the Kaddish I began mumbling. But around me everyone else was reciting it. I was perplexed that some kids knew it perfectly. I hadn’t experienced that before. My one friend, David, made fun of me relentlessly for not knowing it, so by the time camp rolled around next summer, I promised myself that I would be able to recite it along with everyone. Although I was slightly unsuccessful because I still messed up occasionally, I made a lot of improvement.

Another reason I like this prayer, is because it is different from all the others. If someone occasionally zoned out, when the Mourners Kaddish is being recited they are brought back to reality. They pray along with it. Since it has no tune, it adds a seriousness to it. Which is good, because the Kaddish is a very serious prayer.

The last reason why I love the Kaddish is also the most important. The mourner’s Kaddish upholds one of the most important idea of Ludaism; Life. It reminds us to embrace the life God has given us. We say this prayer when we are the depths of despair, and it brings us hope. It re-affirms our belief in God and makes us focus on our health and allows us to live again without being burdened by grief.

The importance of this prayer hit me when I read Night, a memoir by Ellie Wiesel. In this book, a man asks fellow Jews to recite the mourners Kaddish for him when he is sent to the gas chambers. Even though they were on the verge of death, they still remembered their heritage, and they still valued the Kaddish. If people could value it in hard times like the Holocaust, I can certainly value it now. During every service at Fairmount Temple, I make sure I do my best to recite the Kaddish completely while remembering its importance.

Another Important thing I’ve learned here at Faiirmount Temple is the importance of Family. When I’m speaking about family, I’m not just speaking about direct blood relation, I’m speaking about those who are closest to me. Here, at Fairmount, its almost as if I have a second family. Everyone is always there for me when I need them., They are the first ones to give advice, lend a helping hand and congratulate me on any accomplishments I have. I couldn’t imagine life without my family here.

Fairmount Temple wouldn’t have affected me as much as it did without its wonderful staff. When I was in third grade, I joined the junior choir and Cantor Sager was my instructor. Before I joined, I was very shy but thanks to her I became confident and outgoing. The past year or two, I have met with Rabbi Caruso and we have just talked about everything. He’s a great listener and gives amazing advice. Sometimes I wonder if he was meant to be a therapist instead of a Rabbi! But when I hear his sermons, I know he’s in the right place!

Even though Rabbi Nosanchuk just joined the clergy a few years ago, he fit in perfectly. I’ll never forget how close we got during the New York trip when we danced on the tables at Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House together with the confirmation class! it was fun. But Rabbi Nosanchuk is also good at giving a different perspective on a situation and makes me think in different ways. Besides the Clergy, there’s also the Religious school staff, Staci, Elizabeth, Becca and Marla. I can’t even remember a time that they weren’t a part of my life! They taught me valuable lessons, gave me great laughs, and Staci and Marla even let me babysit their kids!

Along with the staff I have met amazing students here at Fairmount like the four girls that are with me today. Each one of them has brought something special into my life and together we are almost like sisters. I couldn’t ask for better people to surround myself with for the past 10 years, and I just wanted to thank them for everything that they’ve done for me.