Saturday, January 25, 2020

It’s that time of year again in the RYNJ middle school. During these finals weeks, the teachers are clamoring to finish covering their curriculum and prepare students for their finals. The students, enticed by the warm sunshine and bitten by the spring fever bug, are counting the days until summer vacation begins. The administrators are counting the days, too, but they are wishing there were more left in the home stretch as there is still so much to do. In addition to regular learning there are many programs, trips and initiatives to plan and implement during this busy time. And then, of course, there’s graduation.

Over the past year, our eighth grade girls have been focusing a great deal on graduating—but not in the way that you think. There have been a lot of tears and crying spells. Every time they attend a special event and realize that this is “the last time we will do this at RYNJ,” many of them begin to cry. Every day I have a group of talmidot sitting at the round table in my office, telling me they don’t want to graduate, that they are sad and don’t want to leave RYNJ. I respond by saying that they should feel good about that. It means that they enjoyed their time and will have so many special memories to take with them. And then I explain that they are projecting the feelings of their 13- and 14-year-old selves onto their older, high-school selves. I reassure them that they will be growing and maturing and the excitement and challenges of high school are what their 15- and 16-year-old selves will be ready for. I guarantee that when they return to visit RYNJ, and I hope that they will because we love when our students stay connected and come back, they will agree that they have outgrown middle school and are enjoying and appreciating the high school experience.

And then I remind them of all the fun that these last few weeks have in store. I urge them to enjoy the moments and not just think about the fact that it’s going to end. I use the Disney parable, which I learned from my husband and has been so useful with our own children, to help them live in the moment. I ask the girls to reflect on a trip that they took to Disney, or imagine a trip they might take in the future. When you get to the park, I say, you know that you will only be there for a few days. You can spend the whole time bemoaning the fact that in a short while your vacation will be over, or you can enjoy every ride to the fullest. I remind the girls that they should try to enjoy every moment of their eighth grade “ride.” Sometimes, at different points of the day, I see some of my students tearing up, and then we both smile and whisper “Disney,” and it’s OK.

As the girls march up to receive their diplomas at their graduation ceremony there will be tears in many eyes: in the eyes of the graduates who have reached this huge milestone, in those of their loving families, and in the eyes of the proud faculty. And through my own tears I will reflect upon how much the students have grown and how far they have come. I will hope that we have helped them develop the skills and tools they will need to navigate the next chapter of their lives and that we have instilled in them a love of Torah learning and of Torah living. I will hope that we have helped them develop the proper balance of recognizing their talents and strengths and what makes them unique, while appreciating that they are part of a group of girls who are each special in their way.

And then I will also smile as I think toward next year, with the promise of a new roster of middle school talmidot who will fill the halls of the Alisa Flatow wing at RYNJ. And, with God’s help, we will get to do this all over again.

Mazal tov, graduates!

By Cindy Zucker

Morah Cindy Zucker is the RYNJ middle school Judaic Studies assistant principal.