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Addressing the Class of 2022

Erev Tov and Congratulations to Everyone!

It is so wonderful to all be here together.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to celebrate Simchas in person, and we’re so glad that we’re all able to be together tonight.  

It is all the more special because this is our first in-person graduation as a two-branch school.  We enjoyed lovely grad breakfasts at both Viewmount and Himel earlier this week, and now have come together to celebrate this wonderful milestone together.  

Grads, in a moment, I have some thoughts to share with you.  But before that, I want to draw everyone’s attention to another cohort that is graduating this year.  Five highly valued and longstanding members of the Bialik family are retiring this year.  

  • The “short-timer” of the group, having taught at Bialik for “only” 28 years, is Orly Stein.  Orly’s work as an elementary classroom teacher, Resource teacher, and ESL teacher has benefited hundreds of students over the years.  
  • Allison Allen served for 31 years in Viewmount’s office.  She was the first person that visitors to Bialik saw, and the sweet, supportive voice that thousands of parents heard when they called the school.  
  • For 32 years, Hannah Isaac has shared her trademark warmth and dedication with her classroom students and the generations of children she prepared so diligently for the bible contests.  
  • Esty Perez taught Bialik’s youngest students for 37 years, sharing her Ahavat Yisrael and impacting so many young minds.
  • And for those same 37 years, Beverley Young has served as teacher, Senior Division Vice Principal, and founding Principal of our Himel Branch.  Beverley has impacted Bialik in so many wonderful ways, and you are all invited to join us on June 28 at the Himel Branch to celebrate her career and wish her well in her retirement.  

Yeladim, think about it!  Each of these women was at Bialik long before you were born…before many of your parents ever met one another.  Added together, they have dedicated 165 years, and their entire professional lifetimes to Bialik, our students and, most recently, to you.  Please join me in thanking them for their years of service, and their dedication to the continuity of Am Yisrael.  Toda Raba!

Now, Graduates, your time in Senior Division has certainly been different — different from the experiences of scores of Bialik graduates who came before you. These last three years have been marked by a pandemic that has profoundly affected the world — and with it, school life — in so many ways. We could focus on the limitations that were imposed upon us and the experiences we have lost. But we must also recognize that we have learned valuable lessons about ourselves and how we remain connected to our communities even when those connections are distanced, or through masks or Zoom screens. 

You may be aware that there is a new law in Ontario that requires employers to institute a Right to Disconnect policy for all staff.  The law recognizes that, especially during the pandemic when so many people have been working from home, the lines between work and non-work times have been blurred. When your bedroom and cell phone are your office, and when your computer’s Zoom extension is your conference room, how do you know where and when work ends and your private life begins?  The new law seeks to protect citizens from being expected to be “on,” at work, all the time.  We all need, the regulation argues, time off from our work lives.  

It occurs to me that you have been facing similar challenges for years, even before the onset of the pandemic.  Most of you received cellphones at relatively young ages, allowing for ease of communication and contact with your parents, friends and peer groups. In school, personal computers have been integrated fully into the learning program, unlocking tremendous educational resources and power. You have 24/7 access to the information and connectivity that the internet provides — advantages that previous generations could only dream of. 

But this constant connectivity can be a double-edged sword.  That computer in your backpack means that you are effectively taking your classroom home with you every day to sit there, in your room, on evenings and weekends. Text messaging and social media extend the time you are “with” others virtually to include virtually every waking hour of the day. Convenient? Yes. Challenging? For sure. Too much? Maybe!

This extension of your academic and social lives into every hour of the day and wherever you go could easily leave you, just like us adults, craving the opportunity to disconnect — if not from paid jobs, then from ubiquitous school and social obligations. How do you find the right balance between the benefits of the ever-present internet on the one hand, and your need to engage in an analog life from time to time on the other?  

Our Jewish tradition has something to say about this 21st century conundrum.  Of course, the ancient rabbis weren’t contemplating Wikipedia and Tik Tok, but they certainly recognized the need for balance between one’s public and private selves.  Two of Rabbi Hillel’s famous sayings:        אל תפרוש מן הציבור   and   ?אם אין אני לי, מי לי   encapsulate that balance.

אל תפרוש מן הציבורDon’t separate yourself from the public — suggests that our place in our community is a critical part of who we are. We are not meant to live as hermits or monks in isolation on a mountaintop. Rather, interacting with others and taking an active part in public life is desirable. The internet, of course, is the ultimate connector – a tool that kept us integrated into our community even during a pandemic. I suspect that Rabbi Hillel would appreciate this and recognize how the web supports his call for connection to public life.  

?אם אין אני לי, מי לי  — If I am not for myself, who will be for me? —  suggests that we also have an obligation to ourselves and to our own wellbeing. We may not always be the priority of others in the public realm, and so we need to look out for ourselves. This self-care almost certainly includes time away from others, focusing on our own needs, and recharging our batteries.

Hillel, then, clearly recognized the need for balance between our public and private selves; the Right to Disconnect law is just a modern version of this realization. And if I have advice for you, Bialik’s 2022 graduates, it is that you strive always to find that balance. 

Reap all the benefits you can from the power of the internet and the connection to friends that are so important to you now more than ever. But make sure to take care of yourselves as well. Find time to read a book, garden, cook or take a walk. Allow yourself the time you need to think your own thoughts. And in a world in which we have thousands of “friends” or “followers,” distill from those crowds the people who value you for who you are and with whom you feel truly comfortable.  

    אל תפרשו מן הציבור, אבל גם תהיו לעצמכם.

Always stay connected to your community, but be for yourselves as well. And, remember, as you head off to high school and beyond, that Bialik will always be part of your community.  We are proud of you, and wish you nothing but the best in your futures.  

Mazal Tov!

Benjy Cohen 

Head of School