Graduation 2015: A [Jewish] Family Affair

This graduation season, my family is celebrating not one, not two, but three graduations.

Our oldest, Alana, graduated from Indiana University. Our middle child, Jacob, graduated from high school. And our youngest, Eric, completed his middle school career.

alanaOver the past few weeks, I have had many moving “graduation moments.” I listened to beautiful symphonic music as thousands of graduates grandly processed into the Indiana University football stadium. I listened to “Pomp and Circumstance” as 316 high school seniors marched two by two into their graduation ceremony. (And although there was no official middle school graduation for Eric – I have proof of his report card: he’s an official high school freshman!)

At the two graduation ceremonies, I listened to two outstanding commencement addresses: one by Sage Steele, Indiana alum, female sportscaster and co-host of ESPN’s NBA Countdown; the other by Marshall Ramsay, a Mississippi artist whose editorial cartoons are syndicated nationally. Both shared inspiring personal stories of facing adversity and challenges, and staying focused on achievements and priorities.

Jacob, the high school grad
Jacob, the high school grad

As a mom, I kvelled throughout commencement, so proud of each my children’s achievements, of their efforts and successes… but then I shifted from glowing about all of the graduations to also wondering: as my children move from these commencements and “commence” the next steps in their lives – are they truly prepared to go out and make their way in the world?

Or, more simply in “mom speak”: Have I done a good job getting them ready to be out there, on their own?

My kids can do their laundry, they know how to balance their checking account, and all three of them can cook the basics. They are ready to be good citizens. But how well have we prepared them, Jewishly? When they are on their own, no longer going because my husband and I are taking them – will they seek out the local synagogue? Attend high holiday services? Participate in their Jewish communities?

Yes. Yes, I think they will. Which means they won’t be on their own — they’ll always have a community.

My husband Ken and I have given them the tools they need in order to become active members of their Jewish communities. More than that, we have given them the positive Jewish experiences that will make them want to do so, no matter where they wind up making their own homes. As we say around here at the ISJL, we know that people move – according to the Pew Research Center, about 60 percent of Americans do not live where they were raised. This is certainly true for Jewish Americans; those of us raising children in small towns know they might leave for bigger cities. Careers also take us all over, so big-city Jewish kids can (and do) also wind up in smaller towns! That’s why it’s important we give our children Jewish educations and experiences that will guide them throughout their lives, no matter their address.

Eric, ready for high school
Eric, ready for high school

In addition to the inspiring commencement speaker, there was another special moment for our family during all of these graduations — a moment that resonated with my thoughts on preparing my children for their Jewish future as well as their future in general. At the Indiana University graduation exercise, Rabbi Sue Laikin Silberberg of Indiana Hillel gave the invocation. She ended with the translation of the Shehecheyanu, a joyous blessing that is recited at the arrival of any long awaited occasion. I felt like I was part of a select club when I recognized her words — and so were my children.

The Shehecheyanu blessing gives thanks to God for enabling us to experience a new or special occasion. The blessing consists of one line: “Barukh ata adonai elohenu melekh ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’z’man ha’zeh,” which means “Blessed are You, O God, for giving life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this joyous time.”

For all of this year’s graduates and their families, Mazel Tov on reaching this milestone. May we all continue to go from strength to strength.

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