Elliot Salinger's Valedictory
Good morning and welcome to the friends and family of the Class of 2012. As you look up to the stage, you should see two distinct entities. The first is a collection of discrete individuals: each graduating senior. However, in addition, there exists a community whose identity transcends those of its individual constituents. That community is the Class of 2012.
On May 31, 1976, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of Maimonides School, delivered an address at the 78th annual meeting of the Conference of Jewish Communal Service in Boston. This address was later published in the Spring 1978 edition of Tradition magazine—Volume 17, Number 2, for those keeping score at home—under the title "the Community." In his address, Rav Soloveitchik discussed Judaism's perspective on the individual, the community, and the relationship between them. Typical of his dialectical approach, Rav Soloveitchik argued that Judaism endorses both experiences, that Jewish life is sensitive to both individual and communal concerns.
Rav Soloveitchik noted several aspects of individuality and community that I think are particularly relevant to our grade. First, Rav Soloveitchik remarked that originality and creativity are functions of individuality. Our grade comprises individuals who have accomplished incredible feats. If you don't believe me, just listen to the Independent Study titles that will be read soon. Furthermore, the individual contributes his or her own personality to the community. In Rav Soloveitchik's words, "Each individual possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to others; each individual has a unique message to communicate, a special color to add to the communal spectrum." Our grade minus one individual would not be the same; each person has his or her own distinctive contribution to the grade dynamic, and thus every individual is indispensable and irreplaceable.
A specific consequence of individuality that Rav Soloveitchik highlighted is the requirement to show special sensitivity to society's vulnerable members. In the world of high school, one such class of people is new students. Our grade consistently accepted this moral responsibility. Allow me now to speak personally.
I came to Maimonides in 9th grade from another Jewish day school in the area. I knew only a handful of my future classmates. I was worried that I would have trouble making friends, since many of my new peers had already been classmates for nine years at the time. However, I forgot my concerns shortly after starting school. My new classmates were as friendly as could be. They all were interested in meeting me and socializing with me, and I immediately received dozens of Shabbat invitations. I knew that I had become fully integrated when only a few months into my first year, my new classmates would ask me about occurrences at Maimo from the year before. When this happened, I would have to remind them that I was not a student at Maimonides then. Thanks to the inclusiveness of my classmates, I felt completely welcomed, and now I have made many friends for life. My classmates who joined our grade rather late have reported having similar experiences. Part of the Class of 2012's culture is to care for and accept others.
Rav Soloveitchik articulated the process by which the community accepts new members as follows: "I assume responsibility for each member of the community to whom I have granted recognition and whom I have found worthy of being my companion. In other words, the I is responsible for the physical and mental welfare of the thou." Rav Soloveitchik further explained that this sense of empathy creates a special type of community, a prayer community.
Our grade is a prayer community both on the surface level and in a deeper sense. Simply speaking, our grade places a high value on tefila. Members of our grade have helped make minyanim and have served as ba'alei keria at shiva homes and in small communities, such as Lowell. At grade functions, for example class barbecues, the Senior Gala, and other get-togethers, our class has always taken care to daven together. At Shabbatonim, both those for our class exclusively—such as the Portland Shabbaton and Simchat Torah in Brookline—and those for the whole school—such as the recent retreat at Camp Yavneh—our grade has demonstrated its commitment to tefila be-tzibur, a concept central in the Halacha and especially the philosophy of Rav Soloveitchik.
In his address, Rav Soloveitchik focused on a deeper meaning of a prayer community. Rav Soloveitchik defined the prayer community as "a community of common pain, of common suffering." Rav Soloveitchik explained that our prayers are phrased in the plural since we are approaching God not as a collection of individuals, but as a distinct entity called the Jewish community. This notion of a prayer community applies to the Class of 2012, as well. Our grade has consistently come together to support its members undergoing difficulties. The logical extension of this prayer community, as Rav Soloveitchik noted, is a charity community. Our grade has created a supportive network that is ready to help others, whether or not they are members of our community. Activities such as Soup Kitchen, Chesed day, and Yachad, all organized at least in part by members of the Class of 2012, show our grade's commitment to aiding those less fortunate.
Rav Soloveitchik's analysis culminates in a discussion of the teaching community. In this community, the teacher relates to the students the saga of Jewish history and the laws—ritual and moral—by which they must live. Rav Soloveitchik then explained that "we not only tell stories describing events; we tell stories precipitating the re-experiences of events which transpired millennia ago. To tell a story is to relive the event."
The Class of 2012 similarly constitutes a teaching community. Together, the community of 50 graduating seniors has studied our heritage and our religion. During our time at Maimonides, we have accepted our role as bearers of the "living masora," to use Rabbi Prof. Isadore Twersky's phrase. Maimonides has taught us the details of the story—for instance, the economic conditions of Andalusian Jewry in the 10th century and the halachic status of hydroponically-grown plants. But Maimonides has also imbued within us a holistic sense as to how to lead our lives as committed, halachically observant Jews who are simultaneously engaged with the broader world. The importance of both the nitty-gritty concrete and the more amorphous abstract within Jewish living is a hallmark of the Maimonides education.
Rav Soloveitchik continued to highlight the story's intergenerational nature, noting that it "cuts across the ages" and "unites countless generations; present, past, and future merge into one great experience."
Through the study of our past, we have connected our smaller community, the Class of 2012, with the larger community of Knesset Yisrael, the Jewish people throughout history. The Modern Orthodox, Torah U'Madda education at Maimonides has taught us how to engage with our traditions in an intellectually and religiously meaningful way, how to live by them, and how to pass them on to the next generation. Maimonides has taught us how to be the next link in the chain, from our ancestors to our children.
Rav Soloveitchik concluded his address by noting, "It is a privilege and a pleasure to belong to such a prayerful, charitable, teaching community, which feels the breath of eternity." Similarly, my four years as a member of the Class of 2012 have been a privilege and a pleasure. I will never forget my experience here, and my Maimonides education will guide me and all those here on the stage for the rest of our lives. Thank you, Maimonides School, and thank you, Class of 2012.