May 102018
 
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SMKTree of Life Award Acceptance Speech
Solomon Schechter Bergen County Community Celebration
6 May 2018

Thank you so much, and thank you Sarah and David for that lovely introduction. It’s an honor for me and for Guy to say thank you to all of you, and to say Mazal Tov and thank you to the other honorees, Dana and Golan Yehuda and Marlene and Philip Rhodes.
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First, a story:

I’m sitting in my office in New York City one morning last year, and my phone rings. “Hi Susan, it’s Sylvia. Special Friends Day is about to start. Is anyone coming for Yael?”

I couldn’t breathe.

I was already sobbing by the time I started frantically calling Guy and then my parents, but no one could get to the school in time. I sat there, on the wrong side of the Hudson River, totally helpless as the minutes of Special Friend’s Day ticked away.

And then my phone buzzed.

First, a message from a Schechter mom that she had swooped up Yael into her orbit. Then a photo of Yael on the floor with a school administrator. And then another photo of Yael with her brother, our son Yoni, Yael’s special friend for the day.

I forwarded Guy the photos, and he texted me back that half-smiling-half-crying emoji face.

That’s what we all get at Schechter: Partners in raising our kids.

The first version of our speech was different than this one. As a former teacher and education researcher, my first instinct was for us to write about the top-notch secular and Jewish education our kids get at Schechter. But instead we decided to explain why we wouldn’t want our kids anywhere else but right here. Right now.

The reason is this:

We Jews are part of a spectacular civilization.
We are the descendants of poets, scientists, prophets and kings.
We have an unprecedented, uninterrupted twenty-five-hundred-year lineage of Jewish literacy.

Our Jewish story has it all:

It’s a story of brilliant, ancient texts with modern, relevant interpretations.
It’s a story of exile and of finding home.
It’s a story of miracles and answered prayers.
It’s a story of family and belonging, and a story that teaches us to welcome the stranger.
It teaches us intellectualism, spirituality, resilience,
humanity, humility, morality,
optimism, patriotism, and globalism.

Indeed, it provides compelling answers to life’s most profound questions.*

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Fania Oz-Salzberger, the Israeli intellectual and daughter of Amos Oz, has said that the Jewish people
are and have always been powered by 2 engines:

The book. And the child.

Schechter brings the two together.

Schechter puts the book in the child’s hand and says to its students:
“Go and be part of Jewish history as it unfolds.
Go.
Go and bring the light and wisdom of the Jewish story to the world,
wherever you go and whatever you do.”

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So a heartfelt thank you to every single person in this room for your part in powering these two engines.

Thank you to Ruth and her outstanding team;
Caryn, Sarah, and Arielle and the amazing army of AHAVA volunteers;
Adi and the dedicated members of the board;
Schechter parents, the lifeblood of our community;
Current and past supporters, upon whose shoulders we stand;
And most especially to Schechter teachers, who show up every single day to teach, love, and inspire our children.

And finally, thank you to our family & friends who came to celebrate.
And thank you to this amazing guy—who I love—and those two little flying monkeys. Without you 3 this life would not only be impossible, but it would also be meaningless.

Thank you.

*  These remarks were inspired by a panel discussion and breakout session featuring Fania Oz-Salzberger at A Day of Learning in honor of the retirement of Barry Shrage. 29 April 2018. Boston, MA.