Heimishe. In a word, Missy Younger’s departure from high school was marked by a ceremony that could only be described as warm, friendly, and unpretentious to the extreme. Central to that celebration was the constant exchange of hugs.
In Israel, commemorations focus on the involved people, not on the degree of sophistication of their accoutrements. Hence, hugs, not light shows, warm words, not rented costumes, connections, not expensive flowers, memories, not precision marching, and friendships, not expensive gifts, are the centerpieces of such proceedings.
For example, Missy Younger’s tekes, her ceremony, took place in her high school cafeteria. It was catered by her and by all of the other graduates. It was those girls, not some fancy hired help, who cut up on the vegetables and sliced the packages cakes meant to be enjoyed by the celebrants and their guests.
What’s more, they, themselves, created all of the trimmings. Items, which the girls esteemed as “necessary,” but which their school could not afford or did not equally prize, the girls brought into existence. For instance, the goings on featured a yearbook and a slideshow, both of which the 12th graders made using their parents’ electronics. Plus, the girls wore no gowns. The caps they wore, further, they had constructed out of poster board and glue.
We attendees witnessed those girls’ passage from stay-at-home daughters to worldly young ladies in a milieu in which they wore light makeup, modest black skirts, white shirts and grand smiles. Most of the time, we saw them covered in hugs. Whereas some of the girls had had to scramble, at the last minute, to buy, or more likely to borrow, their tops (white being a color that is difficult to wear modestly without layers and as such is fairly unpopular among sweaty, religious teens), they looked sufficiently uniform as they strode to the front of the cafeteria to receive their graduation paraphernalia. Jerusalem locals are not keen on commercial balderdash.
The event was called for 6:30. In Israel, the named time of a happening and the actual beginning of the same often varies by hours. In this case, no speaker even bothered to stand in the front of the room until nearly a quarter to eight. Rather, teachers spoke with parents, parents spoke with parents, and girls sought each other for hugs.
Squeezing someone tightly in one’s arms to express affection is a communication utilized by both men and women, in the Holy Land. Usually, boys begin this ritual with a “macho” slap on other fellows’ backs. There’s even a rhythm to the slapping and enfolding. Girls, in contrast, just flow directly into an embrace. Often girls’ shared grips can last for minutes.
Once the program began, the school’s administrators gave talks. So, too, did the head of the body of schools to which Missy Younger’s high school belongs. Time, was made, in addition, for the fathers to serenade their daughters with “HaMalach HaGoel,” a bedtime blessing for children. Since hugs are also crafted from words, I think all of us felt the closeness generated by that song.
Parents were the only expected guests. As anticipated, however, grandparents, aunties and uncles, brothers, sisters, and assorted others showed up. Among relatives, more hugging took place. Those onlookers did not stay seated. Before the speeches, men left the hall to daven mincha. During the handing out of diplomas, entire families left the seating area and gathered at the refreshment tables.
Where hours earlier plates of fruit, containers of cheese, and stacks of pretzels, peanut butter puffs (an Israeli celebration is as nothing if the ubiquitous Bamba is missing), and trays of cookies had waited, piles of discarded napkins, cups, and empty platters grew. Arms were not empty; there seemed to be inadequate time for the girls to sufficiently hug all of their classmates. So, they hugged and hugged before, after and while their names were called.
Barely one tenth of the audience was present, in their seats, when the last group of girls received their papers. Of those remaining, most were standing and many were talking. Almost all were hugging.
My husband and I smiled, on our way out, at our daughter’s teachers. My husband shook hands with the rabbi in charge of Missy Younger’s school. I hugged some of her many friends, the ones who had breezed through our home during the last eight years. I stopped and exchanged pleasantries with moms of other girls, women who I had met and gotten to know during others of our daughter’s school ceremonies. We moms hugged.
Eventually, all of us walked out into the night, Computer Cowboy and I headed toward the central bus station, whereas Missy Younger and the rest of the graduates headed toward a nearby ice cream parlor, where flavors would be shared and hugs would be exchanged yet gain.
I can imagine the tears and laughter that got passed around among those young ones. Most are heading for sherut leumi. A few are enlisting. A smaller number of girls is proceeding directly to higher education or employment. One or two are going to the chuppah.
In the New World, life passages are marked differently than they are in the Old World. Pomp and circumstance, there, necessarily play a part in noting changes in status. Here, in Israel, though, showiness is relegated to the type of mascara graduates choose to wear and to the color of their nail polish. Israelis are not about pageantry. We’re more often defined by heart-felt emotions such as an abundance of hugs.