At the stroke of noon on Sunday, June 6, 2021, friends, family, students and alumni of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration joined together from around the country and around the world to celebrate the graduation of the members of the class of 2021.
Dr. Rona Novick, dean of Azrieli and the Raine and Stanley Silverstein Chair in Professional Ethics and Values, noted that “although we are not together in person, we are so happy you have joined us from South Africa, from Israel, from Canada, from South America, from all over the United States and from here in the New York metropolitan area to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of our graduates.”
Dr. Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, in congratulating the graduates for having “shown great strength in completing the program, despite the challenges and obstacles of this past year,” observed that her father, David Azrieli, for whom the school is named, “was himself a teacher before he became a builder, a businessman and philanthropist, and he felt strongly, as do I, that education is the greatest accelerator of success. You are now part of that tradition of enabling success through education. I want to express my thanks for all the work you have done.”
Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, agreed with Dr. Azrieli about the multiplier effect that a good education grounded in solid Jewish and secular values creates both in the students themselves and in the world around them. He exhorted the graduates to remember that despite the loss, suffering and anxiety experienced over the past year, “this is a changing time and an exciting time…a time brimming with opportunities.” He added, “May God bless you with good fortune and happiness and may you find joy in your life, love in your heart and purpose and all that you do….We’re so proud of your accomplishments and so happy for you today because we know that this is only the beginning of wonderful things to come.”
During the course of the celebration, graduates, faculty and board members spoke with great admiration of the way the students had showed resilience in pursuing their studies and had powered through the many obstacles brought on by the pandemic. Dr. Bethany Strulowitz, a doctoral graduate, brought this all together nicely when she commented upon just how important it is for her and colleagues to endure and triumph because of the sacred nature of their profession:
As educators, the most important and the most rewarding part of our work is to recognize the incredible potential within each of our students, to help them to see it within themselves and to support them in actualizing that potential. In one word, it’s hope [and] like the many, many great Jewish educators who came before us, we are purveyors of hope, peddling it far and wide because we know it to be the birthplace of success. We share this hope with our students by painting a picture of who they can become—every hue, every shade, every brushstroke, blends color and distinction to the palette comprising each of our students….
We need to teach them to be curious, kind, brave, committed and passionate [and] we need to teach them not to define themselves by their setbacks or failures but to understand that those setbacks and failures add color, depth and beauty to the canvas of their lives, and we need to teach them to understand themselves so they can become themselves.
In her own remarks to the students, Dr. Novick wished for all of them “to have lifelong growth [and] one of the best ways to keep growing is to grow others. Grow your colleagues, your schools, your students. Consider always how you grow people spiritually, socially, emotionally and cognitively. You are our gardeners of growth, planting seeds, nurturing saplings, even keeping those mature parts of our Jewish education garden vibrant. It is your efforts that will ensure a bright future for the Jewish people. It is you and your efforts that will ensure that the amazing and deeply rooted Jewish story continues to grow and progress ever forward.”
Prior to the formal ceremony, graduates and faculty met online to share well wishes, engage in a game of Azrieli trivia, and express their mutual appreciation for the learning achieved over the past two years, especially through the challenges posed by COVID-19.