Speech #1 Sophie Frantz
When I was younger I had a lot of questions about being Jewish. I knew that we celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas, and our house was lit up with a menorah instead of lights on a Christmas tree. In the spring we would search for afikomen instead of pastel colored eggs. However, I really didn’t understand why this was the case. Finally after years of me asking questions my parents enrolled me here at Bet Ha’am Religious School’s third grade.
Everyone else in the third grade already knew each other and a little about the Hebrew language. So, when I entered and felt a little like a fish out of water, but that quickly changed. Thanks to the amazing and caring teachers, I figured out that the books open right to left, how to read Hebrew letters and vowels, as well as biblical stories.
Fourth grade came around and I was feeling more confident. I had some friends, but more importantly my questions were beginning to be answered. I discovered the reasons why we celebrate Hanukkah, and the actual reasoning behind Passover. I was feeling pretty good with my newfound skills until we found out about the Kiddush Club. This is when we would have to chant the Friday night Kiddush in Hebrew in front of Orly by ourselves. Now as a nine year old this is a daunting task, but I was ready to overcome, the teachers helped us out and I practiced, and practiced, and practiced until I finally had it down. I was filled with an immense amount of joy when I was told that my work had paid off and I was a part of the Kiddush Club. I was handed a certificate that I still have to this day, and was so proud of myself.
All throughout fifth and sixth I started going to Saturday morning services with my mom, I really started noticing the community here. The regulars who come to every service welcomed newcomers with open arms and everything was so open. During classes we started learning Saturday morning services prayers and it was interesting to see the difference between my first Saturday morning service with me looking around, to the later ones when I was chanting along with everyone else in the community. Also, I was learning so much. I learned about Ellis Island, real Jewish people that have made a difference among so much more. I was forming new questions that were more complex than just the different holidays. I wanted to know why Jewish people were persecuted and what others did to help. I wanted to know why everyone isn’t a mensch, and what you can do to make everyone a good person. Not all of my questions were necessarily about Judaism, but they were brought on by topics we learned about in class.
Then seventh grade rolled around the corner, we started going to class in the evening rather than the early 9 am, I started practicing for my Bat Mitzvah with my extraordinary tutor Avis. Preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah was one of the most time consuming, stressful, hardest thing I ever had to do as a twelve year old. But it was worth it. Every single minute of it, the service was a blur, but I remember my parents crying tears of happiness, joy, and proudness. I felt proud of myself and everyone around me for supporting me all throughout my life and during the months and day of my Bat Mitzvah service.
Eighth and Ninth grade we started doing electives. We all learned so much more about the Jewish community and culture. I learned how to cook Jewish foods and desserts. I learned about Judaism and dreams and how it all connects, I learned so much. My education up until eighth grade was all about history, but learning about the culture opened my eyes up to so much more.
Now I’m finishing up my tenth grade year. Eight years, half of my life has gone by so quickly. When I first entered in third grade the class was filled with over 20 people, now it’s dwindled down to the last four. The four of us have been a group since the fourth grade and as people have left we’ve become closer and a small little segment of the large community here at Bet Ha’am. We’ve all worked so hard to make today happen and I’m so proud of us for this actually happening.
Now I’m going a little off track and say the quick shout out to my family. Thank you for enrolling me in Religious School, even though I complained a few times I have learned so much and am thankful for the experience. Thanks for supporting me during my studying for my Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation. Mom, thanks for attending the Saturday morning services with me because they have given me the opportunity to see the community here. Thanks for making all holidays a time for family. Thanks for making sure that whether it’s with the four of us or traveling to Connecticut to celebrate Passover it’s always a happy and enjoyable time. Thank you so much.
Next year I’m going into the eleventh grade and I honestly can’t believe it’s going by so quickly. Due to all that I’ve learned over the past eight years I plan on continuing my Religious School journey until I graduate. I don’t know what will happen once I go off to college, but I plan celebrating the holidays with my family and learning new things along the way. I’m interested to see what new questions I will have and how they will be answered. Thank you so much.
Speech #2 Jonathan Stanley
If ten years ago, someone asked me what I wished to get out of my Jewish education, I’d probably say, “Learning to read Hebrew,” or maybe, “eat a lot of bagels.” But what I got was so much deeper, richer, and intellectually enticing than that. I grew not only as a person, but as a Jew. I laughed, complained and learned compassion and empathy. I learned to be myself. And for me, two distinct experiences sum this up nicely.
Going to the Maine Jewish Film Festival, for me, was a way of bringing us closer to international Jewish cultures of the past and present. Whether it was about an orphaned Polish Jew during the Holocaust, or anything else, I gained a better understanding of Jewish cultures surprisingly different than my own. This is not to say that I agree with their traditions one-hundred percent, but it gave me the gift of knowledge and perspective that does not come easy in life, all for sitting through 30 minute film once a year. For that, I am extremely grateful.
This past year, I had the great privilege of going to New York with my Hebrew school class. Now everybody associates New York with the Glitz and Glamour that comes with entities such as Broadway and Professional Sports teams, but I came to see New York as a Mecca for world culture, even different forms of Judaism. While we did partake in some of the classic New York activities-going out for Italian food, shopping in Time Square, etc. – we visited synagogues, museums, and even attended a service – one quite different than the ones at Bet Ha’am that I have become so acclimated to. I learned that people interpret God’s word in different ways, and express their interpretations in different ways. It gave me the freedom to explore what I believe in with the Jewish religion, which has helped me mold myself, and will continue in the future.
Bet Ha’am is a community – one with people who share generally similar beliefs. But Hebrew school has given me the freedom to mold my own identity as a Jew rather than conform to any set rules beyond the fundamental laws of Judaism. This has helped me become empathetic, compassionate, and more in touch with myself – someone I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.
Speech #3 Jonah Peterson
For some reason, I looked at this speech or essay for my confirmation and wanted it to be special. For the weeks that I thought hard about it and tried to put it down on paper, I wanted it to really mean something. Both to me and to all of you. Now, I could rant on about the things that I’ve done here at Bet Ha’am religious school, about the memories I’ve made or what happened from year to year that I attended, which don’t get me wrong are very important to me, but I’d rather take my time to talk to you all today about what Judaism has taught me over these years and what it really means to me. Over the years of attending Bet Ha’am religious school, the journey to finding my religion, of finding my God has been ambiguous, vague, unclear. Like riding on a roller coaster high in the clouds. You can’t see much of where you’re going, but you still enjoy the ride. This isn’t to say religious school was all fun and games and wasn’t meaningful, but rather, that I am still exploring myself and my Jewish identity. I think I would be lying to you if I said that my Sunday morning and afternoons were the highlight of my week. Religious school always sort of felt like a drag. I would throw on some sweatpants, a sweatshirt, slide on my flip-flops and crawl out the door. I would ease by each class just to get through it. Despite all of this, I have come where I am today with far more knowledge and understanding than if I chose to not attend Bet Ha’am or to not follow Judaism.
One of the many things that this religion and this community has taught me is that I have a culture, and that culture is part of my identity. Through my experience with traveling, going to public schools in Portland, and various other things like going to Seeds of Peace summer camp, I have come across many cultures. With every culture I have learned about, I witnessed the showdown identity that that person shared. After every time someone shared a part of their cultural identity with me. I felt like a gap between what I knew about them and their actual life had been filled in. And through all the traditions, the traditions, the holidays, the beliefs of Judaism and the Jewish culture in general that I have learned about, experienced, and embraced, I learned that I too, an American white male, a Jew, have a culture and something that I may not show on a day to day basis, but that is special to me and that I hold close in my life.
Another thing that Bet Ha’am and Judaism has taught me, or something that sort of sprouted within me that was guided by teachings, has been the ability to question my beliefs, my thoughts, and my actions. For example, I never really deeply thought about my belief in God. I never really asked myself if there’s anyone above me, if there was a higher power, because frankly I really didn’t know what I believed. I didn’t know who I was praying to at service, but at the same time I didn’t necessarily think that there was no one. Sometimes I would even ask for things in my head, like in an important sports game I would be playing in I would say in my head, “please, please let us win.”
But to whom was I asking? God was so interactive with the Israelites in the Torah, where is God today? Judaism can be taken at many different angles and have different interpretations, not every Jew is the same. If they were, none of us would’ve evolved and we would all still be mike Moses in Sinai. But we live in a modern society, and so the teachings that were reflected towards those times, are destined to be questioned. In Reform Judaism, we are encouraged to question and to wrestle with the “laws” that we have been taught to shape our own beliefs. And that has been one of the lessons that has stayed close to me throughout my life.
Lastly, I have always connected Judaism with my family and with the Bet Ha’am community. It has brought me closer to my family, to my classmates, and to other Jews that I have met. When I was at Seeds of Peace summer camp, I interacted with other Jews there and learned about their Jewish identities. We held a very meaningful Friday night service, the first Friday with only Jewish people, and the next Friday with whoever wanted to attend. Through the prayers, songs, burning candles, and grape juice with Challah, I felt the connection that the spark of the Jewish religion brings wherever it appears. Every Passover, Hanukkah, High Holiday and whatever other tradition that comes about, there is always connections. I am thankful for the privilege of experiencing those connections, and I hope to keep experiencing the joyful and happy times of Judaism in the future,
Overall, Judaism has taught me a multitude of lessons throughout my adolescent years, and continues to teach me as I live my life. Whether I chose this religion to be only something that I was born with or whether I choose it to be something that I always carry around in my back pocket, it will always be a part of me. It has taught me kindness, respect, love and how to make decisions in today’s society. So throughout all the ops and downs of the roller coaster, the loopty-loops and barrel rolls, I will always remember that I’m Jewish, and that Bet Ha’am has played a significant role in shaping that identity.
Speech #4 Emma Tabenken
I’d like to say thank you to all the Bet Ha’am community members that have come in to help us learn new things about being Jewish, whether it be through cooking, making art, planting wheat, or singing music. I know that me and my classmates always enjoyed being able to partake in these electives, which were made possible by community volunteers. Hebrew school has been an integral part of giving me a great sense of community, which in turn has shaped my Jewish identity that I will carry with me as I venture out into the world beyond these walls.
Hebrew school has made me realize a Jewish identity can be shaped by learning Jewish history, worldwide culture, and customs and teachings. To me, being Jewish is about becoming a better person by learning about current problems such as the Syrian refugee crisis, the split Jewish communities of Uganda, or even football causing CTE, and applying the Jewish take on it. It’s about knowing where you come from, as member of the Reform Jewish community. It’s about learning how to cook Jewish foods, and the history behind them. The knowledge I’ve gained here during my time at Bet Ha’am religious school is valuable to me because it will guide me and stay with me for the rest of my life. This is the frame work upon which I will make many important life choices in the future. What makes the time I’ve spent here studying special is the people I’ve studied with. As one Rabbi in Pirkei Avot said: “When two or more people sit together and there are words of Torah between them, the Shechinah – the Divine Presence – is with them”.
It wasn’t always easy getting me up at 8 am on a Sunday for Hebrew School, but once I got there, I was glad to be there. Thanks mom and dad for holding the line on this. Looking back on my time in religious school, it’s made me realize two important things. Firstly, I’ve learned that I’m part of many different communities, some temporary and some permanent, and the Jewish community will always be one of the most important. I’ve also become aware of how much I value all of the academic knowledge about Judaism and Jewish history I’ve acquired.
Our lives are full of communities. Personally, I have a community within my family, my dance family, my high school, and Bet Ha’am. There are sub-groups with in each of the communities, and within the Bet Ha’am congregation, my 10th grade class has become a small, but very important part of my Jewish identity. We’ve weathered the trials of Bar and Bat Mitzvah prep, the juggling act between school, extracurricular activities and Hebrew school. Thank you to my classmates for your friendship and support. Studying at Bet Ha’am has made me realize what privilege it has been to be able to study with people in the same Jewish boat as me. I remember when I traveled to London with my family back in 7th grade, we attended services at a reform congregation that welcomed us with open arms. At first, I thought it would be awkward to go to services where I didn’t know anybody, but I realized we were all connected by one thing: Judaism. It is so interesting to me how there are small Jewish communities all around the world, and this experience made me feel like wherever I travel, I will always be able to find a Jewish community that would welcome me.