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By Merrill Hendin

Shehecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. We are blessed to reach this sacred and important milestone.

Every year at about this time we reflect on time as we prepare to graduate a new class of PJA students. As a Jewish community, we mark time with a blessing, acknowledging and showing gratitude for the gift of  arriving at this sacred and special time in our lives - shehecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. This year’s graduating class of 33 unique and wonderful students, our largest class in many years, shared their voices in a variety of ways as they reflected at graduation on their time at PJA. Some of these students have been with us since they were 2, while others joined for middle school amidst a worldwide pandemic. All of these students formed a beautiful kehillah of school leaders who will go on to pursue their gifts and bring light into our world.

We celebrate our graduates for the beautiful people they are, congratulate them for the work they have done up to this point, and the hope that they can advocate for a world more just and peaceful.  Below are some of the words I shared with our graduates at this year’s ceremony.

Mazal Tov to you, dear graduates. Mazal Tov to your families, friends and wonderful teachers. 

I look at all of your beautiful faces tonight and see you at the different stages of your PJA lives. What a unique community you are. Whether you have been here since you were tiny, or joined the class somewhere along the way, you have all added to the mosaic of this wonderful class. As our largest graduating class, you have truly become our beloved school leaders. You have filled these PJA halls with your funny, smart, kind, goofy, fun loving, wise, caring, and creative selves.

Over these years at PJA a deep sense of Jewish learning, tradition and values have been instilled in you. Through your learning, you have become workers for the world charged with the task of repair, Tikkun, of making this world a better, safer, more peaceful and just place for all. 

At your last PJA Kabbalat Shabbat, you and your middle school classmates packed 154 bags of food for the Portland Backpack project and wrote notes of cheer to each child who will receive a bag.  Through your capstone projects you have researched and educated; become advocates and activists. Your projects include work in the areas of preservation of nature and environmental causes, food insecurity both locally and internationally, neurodiversity, children’s cancer and other illnesses, support for those in the local, national and worldwide Jewish community, refugee relief, health and wellbeing, animal welfare, genocide education and relief, support for the houseless,  education and greater awareness in the area of gender diversity. Your work l’taken olam - to repair the world, is genuine, meaningful and impressive.

We learn in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Sages: Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mimena - You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it. You have grown up hearing this quote, singing this song and learning through action and study, that it is a Jewish value to make the world better.  

You have lived through a great deal to get to this place and time. We have come through a long pandemic which is not over. Witnessed injustice and sadly, tragedy. We have also experienced the joy and satisfaction that comes of helping and supporting others, whether it is your kindergarten buddies, each other, or the people and causes you support through your service work. We know that you will take the values imprinted on you from your homes and your years of learning at PJA, and continue to do what it takes to advocate and work for the things that are important to you, things that will make this world better for you and future generations. Remember, Lo alechem hamlacha ligmor levad - you are not charged to do this work alone- we are here to support and help you - as it is all of our responsibility to do more and better.
Be the extraordinary mensches we know you are and continue to use your learning to guide you to do good. Always know that you have a home, right here where you started, and that the doors are always open.
Shehecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh - we have reached this sacred time and are so grateful. Mazal tov to you all. We will miss each and every one of you.