I was tired.
I was frustrated with who I was.
I was under the pressure of living in my brothers’ shadows.
I was hurt from being broken inside and failing to find the voice to seek help.
Unsatisfied with living in this little, isolated bubble.
Sick of being angry.
While struggling to develop in a broken home, I felt as though the world was playing some cruel, intricate joke on me, as though God was just some abstract concept, perhaps the product of wishful thinking, and as though I didn’t belong because I struggled with Shabbat and Kashrut.
I felt the world toppling down on me, and it pushed me to a breaking point - to where I had to take a deep breath and just stop.
Of all of the things I’ve learned throughout this period of introspection, there is one lesson that has emerged as most significant. I’ve learned to be myself. My unapologetic, unadulterated, uncensored self.
The voice that once drowned in suffering has emerged to fight social injustice. The shadow of my siblings has vanished, as a new light has been cast over a life of my own. I no longer feel like an outcast, as I’ve learned to block out the judgements. And the bubble that once made me feel trapped has been popped by my irrepressible desire to find more in life.
And, much to my surprise, I’ve found a vast world of diversity and refreshing opportunities. I’ve found a city with Jews of different denominations - Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative. I’ve found youth of different religions - Jews, Muslims, and Christians. I’ve found that life is comprised of antitheses - jubilation and depression, normality and eccentricity.
I’ve found reality.
I’ve become who I am - an open minded person, an inquisitive Jew, a controversial voice, and a proud man - despite the fact that some of my beliefs conflict with the values of this community.
I often find myself wondering how I grew to be so different. And it wasn’t until recently that I found my answer.
This school, the place I’ve given my life to for the past 13 years, has played the most integral role in assisting me in becoming the man I am today. This school has shown me the value of embracing the differences that make me unique. A place where people like Rabbi Gil Perl see value in being explorative, in being controversial, in embarking on intellectual pursuits. Where people like Rabbi Uriel Lubetski are always accessible, and find the time to address issues, thoughts, and even the silliest of disagreements. Where people like Mrs. Rochelle Kutliroff refuse to accept social injustice and utter ignorance, and hold an unwavering sense of Jewish pride. Where people like Mrs. Melissa Perl are willing to help those broken students in need of guidance, and do so without passing judgements. Where people like Dr. Whitney Kennon are willing to drop the teacher persona and become a friend, doling out advice when necessary. Where people like Coach James Nokes give me the positive encouragement I need to have a healthy outlook on life. Where people like Mrs. Abby Johnson have shown me that it’s okay to interpret life differently from the majority, and that to do so should be cause for pride, not embarrassment. Where people like Mr. Dana Vaughn care to stop, even for a moment, to discuss some of life’s greatest mysteries, despite the fact that some topics may push the boundaries of the Orthodox day school status quo. Where people like Rabbi Noam Stein relate to some students in whom they see a piece of themselves, and are eager to assist them in finding who they are. Where people like Mr. Daniel Wallace, Rabbi Yonason Gersten, Mrs. Talya Tsuna, and all of the other teachers who have come and gone throughout the years express genuine interest in the wellbeing of the students that they’re tasked with educating. Because people here care - have always cared - and will always care.
We were asked to write about how we’ve grown throughout our years at the Margolin Hebrew Academy. Instead, I discovered how the Margolin Hebrew Academy has raised me.
Despite the hardships and despite the differences, I have a special place in my heart for this school and this community. I leave here a changed man, aware of who I want to become, and well aware of who I don’t want to be.
With love, appreciation, hope, and faith, I leave you now with one parting wish: Fight to preserve the unique character of this school, and look hard enough to see the value in it being open to varying ideas. It has shown me that being different is okay, and that’s something I’ll take with me עד מאה ועשרים.