By Judi Markowitz / Detroit
Shepping naches: It was glorious graduation day in Detroit for Shoshana Leiba, the author's granddaughter, and her family
It’s graduation season and I couldn’t be happier. I love attending graduation ceremonies —they fill me with joy and nostalgia. I have been to more commencements than I can count. After teaching high school seniors for 34 years, I have definitely racked up quite a few.
Reflecting on these special moments brings back memories of my own children when they graduated. I can recall with clarity each milestone from nursery school through college. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing the bright smiles and jubilation radiating from a graduate — no matter their age. And to top it off, last Monday, June 19th, I was privileged to attend the eighth-grade graduation of my oldest granddaughter, Shoshana Leiba.
This was no ordinary graduation ceremony. Shoshana attends an Orthodox Jewish religious school in Southfield, Mich. The classes are separated by gender and Shoshana’s teachers are all women. This particular evening was dedicated to Shoshana’s class of 20 young ladies. The boy’s school was about to celebrate their eighth-grade graduation a day later.
The graduation ceremony was held in the auditorium of the school. Only immediate family members were invited due to the size of the room. Men and women sat separately—on opposite sides of the auditorium. As a secular Jew with observant family members, I have become thoroughly acquainted with many such traditions.
According to Orthodox Jewish customs, there is a separation of genders when it comes to celebrations such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, synagogue services, engagement parties and, of course, graduations. Basically, this is commonplace whenever large Torah observant groups mingle. But at home, these families don’t make this distinction with their children.
When the guests were finally seated the processional began. It was quite short considering the number of girls in attendance. They proudly walked down the middle aisle and took their designated seats at the front of the room. It was a delight to observe the special outfits each girl chose to wear for the occasion. All the graduates looked like they could have been modeling the latest in couture— they were truly fashionistas.
Being observant, women are expected to be tzniut — this is Yiddish for modesty. In terms of clothing, tzniut means that skirts and dresses are the norm in the Orthodox community — no pants. However, when participating in athletics, leggings are usually worn under a skirt. Hem lines for skirts and dresses can begin just below the knee as well. Blouses, sweaters, or any type of top should cover the elbows and collarbone too. The underlying idea is to for women and girls to present themselves in a dignified manner.
The graduates were anxious to start the program for the evening. Administrators and teachers spoke first. They congratulated the graduates and praised them for their devotion to their studies and HaShem — God. After this, speeches were given by six young girls from the graduating class. All were delivered in English, except for one, which was done entirely in Hebrew. At this stage most of the girls are fluent in Hebrew.
The selection process for the speakers was not based on their GPA’s, perfect attendance or public service. Everyone was given the opportunity to write a speech for the ceremony, but only a few volunteered. It’s not easy to speak in front of a crowd and for some of the girls this was their first experience being asked. Shoshana Leiba was one of the speakers. To say the least, my husband Jeffrey and I were very proud of her.
The girls did not reflect on memories of their past years in school, world events, or social media issues. The central theme of each speech focused on that week’s parsha — the different section of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) that is read and studied each week. This week’s parsha was Korach , which highlights an uprising orchestrated by Korach against Moses. (It did not end well for Korach.)
Shoshana Leiba began her speech by thanking her teachers and classmates for supporting and welcoming her when she started school in the sixth grade. It was the middle of the school year when she and her family moved back to Michigan from Israel. She was grateful for their warmth and genuine friendship.
After these introductory comments, Shoshana Leiba was laser focused on explaining that the previous week’s Torah readings all connect to similar ideas. In a nutshell, Korach wanted to be the High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with God that results from entry into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Moses responded, that while this was a worthy desire, even one that he himself yearned for, nevertheless HaShem had told him to appoint his own brother, Aharon, as the high priest.
Korach didn’t understand, or want to accept, that Moses was only following the dictates of HaShem, and was not falling prey to nepotism. According to the Torah, at Mount Sinai, God told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,” that every Jew has the potential to attain the level of a high priest, nevertheless different people realize their potential in different ways. Korach and his 250 followers wanted their holy spark to flourish, albeit they erred in their approach, leading to their downfall.
However, Shoshana Leiba garnered more than just the events that were discussed in this parsha. She stated that even though the Jewish people had been wandering for 40 years in the desert, had made other mistakes along the way, and didn’t always understand the path they were being taken on, they still needed to have continuous faith in God — He had a plan. Shoshana emphasized “We too have been on an incredible journey thus far, enveloped in God’s warm embrace. We have been traveling like our ancestors, and HaShem will continue to guide and lead us upon all our journeys in life — no matter where they may take us. We just need to keep our eyes and minds focused.” Life’s winding road is not only about the destination; it is also about the journey as well.
In Hebrew, Shoshana translates to “a rose” and metaphorically represents the beauty of the Jewish people. The name Leiba, which is Yiddish, means heart. My granddaughter’s speech truly reflected the passion and sincerity of her commitment to Torah-observant Judaism — just like her name.
As I sat in the audience listening to Shoshana, I felt such naches! I was also reminded that I am now part of the older generation, but I too, have many more journeys to experience. Life has moved quickly. What seems like a minute has been years since my parents sat next to me at their grandchildren’s graduations. Now, it’s just a memory and one that I dearly embrace.
I love spending time with my grandchildren — it’s a privilege that I do not take for granted. At this juncture I am quite aware of the ticking clock and want to make the most of our adventures. The graduation was definitely a highlight.
When the ceremony ended and the graduates filed out of the room, pictures were taken, and refreshments became the main event. Shoshana Leiba was basking in the glory of the moment while talking with friends and family. Plans were already under way for a party later that evening —a girls-only event! Teenagers just want to have fun and celebrate a wonderful moment in their lives whether they are religious or secular — and a party was just the ticket.
Mazel tov, Shoshana Leiba! Onward and upward to the next milestone–high school!
Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.
Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.