We Each Have Our Torah to Teach: My Charge to the OJCS Graduating Class of 2023

[Please find here an adapted version of the words I shared at last night’s Ottawa Jewish Community School Graduation:]

I was sitting in this room a few weeks ago listening to Rabbi Kenter offer his final sermon in our community, and he shared that he had learned in rabbinical school that essentially a rabbi only shares one sermon – in lots of different ways, offered many times over, but with one essential idea that is a marriage of who that rabbi is and what he or she is called to share.  This idea – that we each have one sermon to preach, one story to tell, one contribution to make, and that we spend our lives figuring out what it is and how to do it resonates with me and will be something I continue to wrestle with.  But for tonight, the question it inspires is, “What would it mean to know that we each have our own unique torah to teach and how might time spent in Jewish day school help us to both learn our torah and learn how to teach our torah?

Of course, when I say “torah” I mean it both literally and metaphorically.  Our students have, of course, learned much actual Torah during their many years of spiral parashat ha’shavuah, deep dives into powerful narratives from Tanakh, explorations into the origins and traditions of holidays of both Biblical and rabbinic origins, and by dipping their toes into the Sea of Talmud.  And our students have taught Torah frequently as well, especially through the process of writing and delivering divrei torah while in Middle School (not to mention the parallel learning that takes place during the b’nei mitzvah process).  But more broadly, tradition encourages us to adopt a less-narrow view of “torah” to include much of what constitutes an OJCS education.  They have studied the “torah” of Math, Science, Social Studies, French, English, and all other subjects and topics of learning during their years is school and have learned to teach that torah through the many projects, blog posts, public speaking events and other creative opportunities our teachers provide for our students to share their learning.  But academics are only one facet of the “torah” our students learn and learn to teach at OJCS.  They experience the “torah” of art, music, drama and PE.  They learn the “torah” of leadership through Reading Buddies, Knesset, and Maccabiah.  They experience the “torah” of community through retreats, trips, assemblies and holiday celebrations.  And, of course, they put actual Torah into action through the many tikkun olam projects they plan and participate in through our relationships with the JCC, Hillel Lodge, Tamir, TIPES, the Kosher Food Bank, the Jewish Cemetery, our new Middle School Mitzvah Trip experiences, with more and more meaningful opportunities being developed each year.  Whether we mean “torah” in the narrowest or most expansive sense, our graduates have spent years wrestling and learning and trying and growing and teaching and sharing torah.

Graduates.  Now, as you prepare to leave OJCS and move onto new adventures, we hope that your time here has helped you consider what your one true sermon is and how you will share it with the world.  What is your torah to teach and how will you teach it?  How will you continue to learn and how will you continue to share what you learn?  How will you apply your learning to making the world around you a better place?  What will be your unique contribution to your families, your schools, your Jewish communities, your larger community, and the world?  Standing here, I say with great confidence that although I cannot know how each of the stories of your lives will be written, I do know that based on the strong foundation your parents have provided you with through the gift of Jewish day school, that you will continue to write Jewish stories of significance and we will follow those stories with pride, with wonder and with gratitude.”

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon is studying to be a rabbi at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is on the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

One thought on “We Each Have Our Torah to Teach: My Charge to the OJCS Graduating Class of 2023”

  1. Enjoyed reading your post. Nice message to the graduating class to dind their ‘one sermon’ we each have. I also liked your second message, the Torah of everything.
    Thank you.

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