Graduation day: There and then, here and now
What a difference a few continents, a foreign language, another society
and a completely different culture, mindset and educational system make.
graduation Photo: pepe fainberg
‘Abba, could you please stop humming that stupid song,” my daughter said the
other day, as we proudly watched her brother, Skippy, graduate high
“Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum,” I continued, Edgar Elgar’s Pomp
and Circumstance (Land of Hope and Glory), that traditional song for graduation
processions in the US, playing over and over in my mind. “Dum, dum, dum, dum,
deeeeee, dum; ba, ba, ba, ba, ba...”
And in between the “dum, dums” and
the “ba, bas,” I dramatically and formally whispered the following names into my
annoyed daughter’s ear: “Kaley, Terri; Kaufman, Sam; Keinon, Skippy; Kharas,
Katie; Kishimoto, Noreen M.”
My daughter thought me nuts, and looked
around to make sure no one was watching. “Shhhhhh,” she
Never mind, I was having a grand old time approximating what
this graduation ceremony would have been like had Skippy attended the high
school I went to – George Washington High in Denver – rather than an
environmental yeshiva not far from Beersheba.
What a difference a few
continents, a foreign language, another society and a completely different
culture, mindset and educational system make.
Indeed, there were some 40
kids at Skippy’s ceremony, all pretty much cut from the same cloth.
knew everyone. They all looked alike, had similar immediate goals (elite units
in the army – yalla), and even sounded alike with deep, mumbling
All had the same five-word vocabulary to describe everything
under the sun: sababa (cool), eser (10), dvash (honey), achla (great), and achi
(bro). They hugged each other upon seeing one another after a day’s absence, as
if reuniting after being separated for decades.
In my graduating class
there were about 850 kids, from all different ethnic and economic backgrounds. I
didn’t know either person sitting next to me in the auditorium as the principal
droned on about the challenges awaiting the Class of ‘77 (“Yay, yippee, wooo
hoooo”). And I wouldn’t be caught dead hugging one of my male classmates, even
if it was a best friend who – Dr Zhivago-like – returned from the gulag with
icicles in his beard.
Skippy wore shorts and a T-shirt; I donned cap and
gown. His final class outing was a five-day “fun workshop” traveling the length
and breadth of the Galilee and Golan. Mine was a two-hour lunch at the Spaghetti
Factory in downtown Denver.
Skippy’s sights as he graduates are set on
the army, mine were on college. Indeed, those in my school who actually thought
about the army, those in ROTC, were looked down upon as unfortunate, poor souls
with few options.
But still, despite all the differences – and they are
legion – there are similarities. I remember that happy/sad feeling upon
graduating high school: that feeling of uncertainty; of wondering what it would
be like to swim in the big world; of joy at being done with math; of feeling
mature; of pledging to remain in touch with friends, but knowing deep down that
I never would.
I remember feeling all man-about-town and gown-up, only to
be brought back down to earth when I came home from the ceremony and my father
ordered me to do household chores, as if nothing had changed.
has still retained that bring-you-down- to-earth quality. Upon proudly receiving
news recently that the second of his two grandsons from my sister became a
rabbi, he told me on the phone, in reference to my line of work, “We now have in
the family two rabbis and a human typewriter”).
It’s an odd feeling,
graduating. It’s something you work toward and eagerly anticipate for the
independence it allegedly bestows, but at the same time, once it passes you are
cast into a new reality – a reality less secure, less defined, less
Those feelings that well up upon hearing your name called as you
march up to get either a diploma – in my case – or a book about the topography
of southern Israel – in my son’s – are as cross-cultural as they are
The Shabbat before Skippy’s graduation, all the
parents of his graduating class were invited to the school for a final
get-together – kids, parents, faculty. It turned into a love fest, as these
types of closing ceremonies often do.
“What a wonderful place to send the
boys” (it was); “I sent a boy and got back an adult” (well, kind of); “They
learned so much” (lets not go nuts here).
At one session, the head of the
yeshiva had everyone sit in concentric circles and proceeded to ask the parents
how they felt now that their boys were “coming home” after finishing four years
in his school.
Again, the answers were sweetness and light.
they had grown so much.” “Ah, they had matured so intensely.” “Ah, they had
changed so much for the good.”
Nu, what are folks going to say a week
before graduation? “I gave you a sweet boy and look what you turned him into”?
Skippy, knowing beforehand how the Shabbat would proceed, cautioned me against
“No fadichot” (potential embarrassments), he warned.
didn’t have to caution too much (he should have concentrated on his mother). I
hate speaking in these settings. It’s a combination of innate shyness, not
having much to say (touchy-feely is not my comfort zone), and being overly
self-conscious about my Hebrew accent. In fact, when the circle formed I tried
to figure out from which side they were going to start the discussion and
scrambled for a position at the other end, hoping time would run out before they
called on me.
Had I mustered up the courage, however, I would have taken
all that sweetness and light down just a notch.
“You ask what it’s like
when the boy comes home after studying here for four years,” I yearned to say,
but was afraid of getting booed or angrily eyeballed by my son. “Well, when
Skippy comes home, what we have is a built-in conflict between his desire for
freedom, and my desire to restrict it. The key is finding a balance that allows
him some independence, while at the same time saving me from a heart attack. The
rest is commentary.”
And then, of course, I would have hummed a Pomp and