‘A comfortable place to learn and grow’

The following is Jessica Kaplan’s graduation speech at Shoresh Hebrew High School in Rockville. The graduation was June 5.

As a freshman switching to Public School, after being at a Jewish Day School my entire
life, going to Shoresh was not a question of debate, nor was it unfamiliar or
uncomfortable. With in my first year, the high school planned a special Purim event,
where each teacher shares a unique perspective and teaches a cool aspect of the Purim
story. As a 9th grader, I listened to Maryana, a Shoresh teacher share her opinion, which
I will reference later in my speech. As a freshman I didn’t agree with Maryana, however I
didn’t voice my opinion because I didn’t know how to articulate it nor did I know if what I
had to say would be accepted, given the fact that I was challenging a teacher.

Flash forward to my senior year. As a class we were studying Purim once again with
Maryana. We read p’sookim and studied the text, hearing different viewpoints as
everyone asked questions and provided insight. When we got to one section, I knew I
had heard it before as a freshman. Once again, Maryana gave her thoughts and
argument about the topic, and once again, I still didn’t agree. However this time I shot
my hand up, ready to argue- I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew the environment I
was in was accepting and craving new ideas and confrontation. The idea we argued
about was as follows. In the beginning of the Purim story, Haman is asked to ride
through the streets and have everyone bow down to him to show the king’s power.

However, Mordachi, being a good Jew that he is, refused to bow down. This then sets off
Haman, causing him to persuade King Achaveruas to kill all the Jewish people. Maryana
believes that Mordechai should never have been there in the first place. If he knew it
would cause conflict, Mordechi should have removed himself from the situation, gone
about his day, and come back to the palace courtyards when Haman was done ordering
everyone to bow, because he didn’t have to be there. However, my opinion differed. I
believed that Mordechai should have stayed, challenged the authority, and fought for
what he believed in. Without that mentality, nothing would ever get changed in the world.

We must stand up for what we believe in if we want to make a change. We have to be
active, not passive. We have to be persistent and willing to take the risk. Maybe I’m a
just a teenager who has high hopes and wild dreams. Maybe Maryana has seen too
much and knows better to not risk a potential genocide just to get your way. Whatever it
may be, we did not agree, but that was okay.

Shoresh has provided me with a well rounded education. I have loved my Mishnah,
Rabbinic Stories, and Lifecycles classes with Rabbi Abramson. Along with our fangirling
over Woody Allen movies and finding the deep meanings behind every artsy film ever. I
have taken great interest in Jewish history and Zionism with Mr Sims. I took my newly
found Zionistic knowledge and love with me to Israel this past summer, as I echoed my
Shoresh learning onto them. And finally, I have found creative ways to incorporate my
Tanakh studies with Maryana into my everyday life, but especially into my leadership
positions with my youth group, BBYO.

Since the beginning of Freshman year, just arrived and felt uncomfortable voicing my
opinion, Shoresh has become a comfortable place to learn, grow, voice opinions, and
have arguments. It is such a special thing to debate with my classmates and teachers in
an environment which encourages individual thought and self exploration. Things I have
learned throughout my time at Shoresh have proven useful both at school and within
BBYO. I was able to take the same debate my class had about Purim, to my chapter and
incorporate the lesson into a programming along with Stand UP and Jewish education.

I have grown, I have formed opinions, I have changed my opinions, I understand that
there is so much I don’t know, and most importantly, I am committed to furthering my
Jewish education, and furthering my children’s Jewish education.

I would love to say thanks and express my gratitude to my teachers who have gotten me
to where I am today, Rabbi Oreski, Rabbi Feld, Mr Sims, Rabbi Abramson, and
Maryana. Thank you to the board for working tirelessly on the student’s behalf, and a
huge shout out to my classmates who I have become friends with over the years, who I
have learned from, and who I share inside jokes with. And thank you to my parents who
at first made me go to Shoresh, however it turned into me wanting to go to Shoresh.

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