It is oh so quiet now, but my ears still ring with the beautiful singing that concluded tonight’s ceremony, where our firstborn graduated from high school. So many thoughts swirl through my head it is hard to catch any specific one.

During the program I was overwhelmed by the rush of emotion brought on by the many speeches (actually not too much boredom, because they were each well said, but I’ll admit to a little numbness around the bottom). Kudos to our Mayor, Oded Revivi, who practically got a standing ovation because he really had the best speech at under a minute- “We are proud of you, you are wonderful, go live amazing lives” – okay, not an exact quote, but boy does he know how to win the crowd!

The principal, the teachers, and of course Rabbi Riskin all had inspiring thoughts, including the idea that while the Torah frequently tries to inspire us to righteousness through good examples, this week’s parsha includes the other side: the horrible warning. Sometimes we need to learn what not to do, and we are better off if we learn from someone else’s mistake than having to live with our own. Again, just a paraphrase because I don’t think I can do it justice.

Another speech, by a teacher who traveled far to be with his former students, told about how an elephant is chained with a small chain when it is young. When it is older, there is no need for a stronger chain because in the elephant’s mind, it already thinks it can’t break the chain, so it won’t even try. The message is that the students should not think they have limitations just because that is what they thought when they were younger.

I also enjoyed the videos asking the students what they will be doing next year and in the future, and what they are taking away from the school. Most answered about the sort of army service or ongoing studies, and most said the thing they are taking with them is friendships they made here.

I felt conflicted before tonight, because I know that while we have important ceremonies here, we don’t stand on ceremony. Yes, there were people in jeans and t-shirts, and yes, there was no processional, recessional, or even orderly handing out of diplomas. I braced myself for it, and found that even as I missed this, I felt something different from this less formal ceremony. The evening started with a few of the boys from the class singing, and was interspersed with a few more songs which had the crowd of parents joining in, then ended with the students slinging arms around each other and the whole class singing together.

What I felt, on this night that most of our relatives are thousands of miles away, was surrounded by family. There were few parents that I knew by sight, but we were all there together, celebrating the way a family does. A little food, a small room, and all filled with love. I felt proud of each boy, faces I don’t know, who announced on the video that he was going to the army, or going to a learning program, or even one who wasn’t sure yet. I felt that just knowing we are part of this nation gives us each claim on each other’s children, to love and worry about.

I was sick just a few weeks ago when this country celebrated a Yom Achdut, the day that commemorated the awful kidnapping and murder of three of our boys. As I recently told my husband, it’s not just that we live here now, but as a teacher, I meet many of these boys and a small part of me dreads the day I will hear any of their names on the news, dreads living that terrible time of not knowing, and the worse time of finding out. But what I want to take from this horror is that, as a country, it not only brought us together then, but continues to be celebrated in a positive way. That just takes my breath away. We could have had a terrible follow-up, really reacting in ways I don’t want to describe, but are frequently seen when something terrible happens in other communities. Instead, we are a light unto nations, most of us. We take the bad and try to see the good in it, try to learn from it and yet at the same time not dwell on it. (Okay, I’m not as good at that yet.)

The last speech from tonight was from the class representative, and I hope he won’t mind if I say here, kudos to you, Asher Katz. Your speech left all the others behind. It was powerful and emotional, and your classmates say you are a person to watch.

Asher talked about how high school isn’t an easy time. There are ups and downs, but the point is, both the ups and the downs are what make the whole experience. We can’t just remember the good, and forget the bad. All of it is what makes us who we are. All of the things we learn, in school and out, and all of the events in our lives, good and bad, add up to teach us and build us.

This week, we are going through some bumps in what was a smooth road, and though I hope and pray that the outcome will be in our eyes “l’tova”, what I am learning most is that we live in a small country where friends are family, and everyone cares.

The most emotional part of the evening for me was a short animated film that showed a little creature planting a seed, and how hard he worked to nurture it. And just when it seemed that the plant was dying, it suddenly sprouted up to the sky, and the creature joyously hung on as it grew to fairy-tale proportions.

I cried because the mashal (lesson) was obvious. We, the parents, do everything in our power to care for you, our children. We shelter you from the storm, read to you, love you and protect you. But there comes a time when you graduate. You will blossom and grow, with help from Above, and remember the elephant story too; your boundaries are only those you make for yourself in your mind.

The time has come for me to embarrass my child in public. Alex, we love you. We think you are amazing, and you can do anything you set your mind to. You came on Aliyah when you were nine years old, and we had no idea that of all things, you had a problem with languages. Yet, you overcame that challenge and went on to succeed in all areas, learning not only Torah but Technology (and even a little Physics) in a language that was not your mother tongue. We are impressed with your efforts and achievements. You have grown into a person of inner strength and convictions as well as kindness. God gave you to us eighteen years ago, and now we have to let you go into the world. Just remember that you are surrounded by family, and we will be here for you if you need us.

To all who are graduating this month, I wish you a mazal tov and hope for you that you all find your strengths. You have much to contribute to our country and our world, just by being yourselves. Behatzlacha.