Answer Hineini - Here I Am - And Be Fully Present

by Miriam Kass, Principal, read at graduation to the graduates

Every graduation is at once the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one. 

It’s a transition. The hope, our hope, in a moment like this, is that we at Akiba-Schechter have given you something that stays with you as you move forward, something valuable, something maybe even timeless: a way of looking at the world and your place in it that enriches your life, and the lives of those around you, no matter your path. 

This year the transition seems starker. We are emerging from a year of disruption that we will, we hope, not see again in our lifetimes. And as you look back, we hope you remember the devotion of your teachers, your parents, and your friends to make in-person learning possible this year. We trust you will take pride in all we did to make being together possible, to learn together, to go through this year-long trial together. 

This wasn’t done for you, it was done with you. 

As you know even better than all of us adults, technology makes it possible to “connect” with people who are not with you. Social media creates a certain kind of “community.” Zoom allows for a certain kind of “classroom.” But very soon after we shook off the jitters of those first few days back in the building together last September, we confirmed what we had sensed during the long stay-at-home order from last spring. Social media and Zoom are simply no substitute for physical presence. 

To be together, to be fully present with and for others is a human and spiritual need that technology does not replace. 

We feel each other more deeply when we are in the same room. And even behind these masks, we understand each other more fully when we are within arm’s reach. 

In Tanach, we read that God calls out to our Biblical leaders in times of struggle and doubt. When God called Avraham to bind his son, Avraham responded with trust and faith in God, “Hineni,” “Here I am.”  When God called out to Moshe from the burning bush, Moshe responded, unsure of his future, “Hineni,” “Here I am.” We read that parents call their children, and children call their parents; and the answers are: 

“Hineni,” “Here I am.” This simple word is inspiring. It signals that the speaker is ready to take responsibility, to be fully present, to lead, and to strengthen. 

Early last summer when we were still in lockdown, we called two doctors in our community, Dr. Schinasi and Dr. Shanes. Both of them answered, Hineni

And later last summer, we called out to you and your parents at a time of fear and doubt and vulnerability. And you answered, Hineni. And look at what we did together?!

As you reflect on your time at Akiba-Schechter, and especially on this past year, we hope you’ll remember the power of answering Hineni. Answering Hineni, even when you’re not sure, draws you closer to others, and signals your intention to be fully present. The kind of presence that serves not only your personal needs, but also serves your community. Each one of you made contributions that were essential to our community this year. 

We hope reflecting on this year inspires you to bring yourself fully to every place you go. 

When your future friends, family, teachers, neighbors, colleagues, and more, call out, listen for the chance to say Hineni. Even when you’re not sure you have the strength or confidence or the skill. 

Visit a mourning family during shiva. Speak up when you see injustice. Check on a classmate when you notice they’re absent. Ask questions with thought and courage like you did of the clean water panelists last week. And show up for your family, your friends, and your community with your full self: mind, body and spirit. 

Believe that you are ready to lead. Your teachers and I know you are ready. Go out into the world beyond Akiba-Schechter, with confidence. And answer, Hineni


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