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A Long-Awaited Milestone for Yeshivat He’Atid: The First Graduating Class

(Courtesy of Yeshivat He’Atid) July 8, 2020 will go down in Yeshivat He’Atid’s history as a momentous occasion—the celebration of the first graduating class. While the circumstances were quite different than anyone envisioned due to the current climate and social distancing requirements, Yeshivat He’Atid was determined that the eighth grade graduation would be commemorated and celebrated in a manner commensurate with the level of excitement everyone felt about the occasion.

This year was full of uncertainty as students globally transitioned to the new reality of online learning. Covid-19 changed the way eighth graders envisioned their final year in He’Atid, but despite this year’s challenges, each student persevered.

To properly celebrate their years together even while apart, Yeshivat He’Atid hosted a special virtual dinner for the graduates. Head of School Rav Tomer Ronen spoke to the students about the challenges this year brought, and reassured them that although they were physically distanced, they are still emotionally connected as part of the He’Atid family.

The celebration continued when the administration drove to each graduating student’s home, blasting simcha music, to present each graduate with a personalized graduation lawn sign. It was a beautiful opportunity for the administration to celebrate with each graduate and family and a moment to reflect on their time with Yeshivat He’Atid in a way that a large celebration might not have afforded.

With Governor Murphy’s changes to graduation policies, students and families were thrilled to be able to celebrate together and enjoy this special occasion, b’yachad. The outdoor graduation ceremony took place on the football field at Roy Brown Middle School, a few hundred feet from where Yeshivat He’Atid first opened its doors on September 4, 2012. The night was a true celebration of not only its graduates but of all the faculty, administration, parents and lay leaders who turned a dream into a reality. Those who were unable to attend the graduation watched from home on the graduation livestream. The graduates and their guests participated in an intimate ceremony that focused on the students and their achievements throughout their years at Yeshivat He’Atid. Each graduate was seated in a personalized He’Atid lawn chair in their own section surrounded by their immediate family members, socially distanced from the next graduate and their family.

Presentations from the administration and founding board members told the inspiring story of the incredible journey of the school. It was back in 2012 that Yeshivat He’Atid began the journey to innovate Jewish education through a commitment to academic excellence paired with an affordable tuition model. A school that started with just a small group of students and parents and a vision, now has a student body of over 560 students; an enrollment increase of 500%. Students are thriving and their academic and social-emotional growth is evident.

At graduation, speakers addressed the students directly, speaking from the heart and providing words of encouragement and wisdom as the graduates take the next step in their academic journey.

The first address at graduation was from Rav Ronen. In his message to the students, Rav Ronen described Yaakov Avinu’s difficult journey from his father’s home to Charan. Despite the challenges, he approached this task with vision and purpose. In turn, Hashem lifted him up and supported him on this journey with miracles happening every step of the way. The graduates were tasked with finding their own inner courage as they embark upon this next part of their journey. Like Yaakov, they have the ability to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.

Abby Flamholz, one of the leading founders of Yeshivat He’Atid, and a proud parent of Jerry, a Yeshivat He’Atid graduate, gave this important message to the students, “My message for today’s graduates is that one day you too will have a dream, a vision of what can be accomplished. And there will be people who tell you that it cannot be done, there will be people who stand in your way, but always remember to believe in yourself, work hard and again with Hashem’s help you can accomplish anything. This school, and our gathering here today, are proof enough that the impossible is possible.”

Gershon Distenfeld, a Yeshivat He’Atid founder, spoke to the students about the value of being the first graduates as he reflected on his experience as being part of the first graduating class of his elementary school. He found freedom in not being held to the expectations set by older grades. Distenfeld encouraged the graduates to use that unique independence to make their own way and break through barriers.

The graduating students were the real stars of the show. Two class speakers were chosen by their teachers and peers for their exemplification of Yeshivat He’Atid’s four core values; Torat Chayim—Living a Torah Life, HaKol B’Simcha—Joyful Mindset, Kavod v Kehila—Respect and Community and Mitzuyanut Azmit—Committed to Personal Excellence.

Student speakers Jacob Lopchinsky and Aderet Feldblum spoke about the incredible friendships they have built during their time in Yeshivat He’Atid. Lopchinsky thanked his classmates for the remarkable friendships and the inclusiveness that was offered to him when he joined Yeshivat He’Atid in fourth grade. As a student of Yeshivat He’Atid since its opening, Feldblum spoke about the value of the friendships she had gained over her eight years in Yeshivat He’Atid, and how being the oldest grade in the school came with the expectation of being role models for the younger grades. Both students discussed the fun and exciting times they shared and how the learning environment of Yeshivat He’Atid consistently encouraged them to become independent thinkers and students of action.

Zach Mizrahi presented a beautiful piece of artwork as a gift to the school from the eighth grade. The art was designed and created by the graduates themselves. When their plans to create the piece together were dashed by the current circumstances, they switched gears and each created one section that was joined with the others into one piece of art.

The 2020 yearbook was presented by Samantha Pruzansky to Ora Kornbluth, to whom the students dedicated the book. Kornbluth, the executive director of the school, has been an integral part of Yeshivat He’Atid since its inception. She is known and beloved by each student as she has witnessed and supported their growth over the years, for many since the first day of first grade. In fact, they could not imagine dedicating their yearbook to anyone else.

As the students received their diplomas, faculty members delivered personal messages to each student of the graduating class, highlighting the incredible midot they showed as individuals and as a class.

In the fall, the 23 graduates are set to attend various high schools, including Yeshivat Frisch, TABC, Maayanot, MTA, Kushner, JEC and Bergen Academies. These exemplary students are a fantastic group of trailblazing, history-making bnai and bnot mitzvah. Yeshivat He’Atid is proud to have them represent the school and wish them the best of luck in high school and the future.

It took eight years for Yeshivat He’Atid to reach this amazing milestone. May each graduate continue to be a source of pride for the He’Atid family as they move on to the next phase in their lives. Yeshivat He’Atid will forever be a part of who they are, and as the first graduating class, these 23 students will forever be a part of Yeshivat He’Atid.

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