The Power of Achshav

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 2.41.48 PMToast Shared at Class of 2020 Virtual Hillel Toast

It’s so special to be with you today.  And I do mean WITH you – all of our team at Hillel is behind you.  We support you.  We’re as proud of you as we would be if we were all squeezed in the townhouse together.  WE. ARE. WITH. YOU. – and I don’t want you to forget it as you venture into this uncertain world.

Last Saturday night, my husband and I attended our first ever Zoom Bar Mitzvah party.  I honestly had limited expectations – and dare I admit, was a bit excited to get it over with so I could watch TV mindlessly on the couch.  But after spending an hour honoring our friend’s son, I put away the computer with a deep joy in my heart.  The parents of the Bar Mitzvah had made a very clear choice – this would not be a sad moment to act as a placeholder for what could have been.  This was a celebration of intention, rid of all the excess things that aren’t all that important.  Grandparents reflected on their deep pride in the Bar Mitzvah boy.  Parents shared pictures of 13 treasured years watching their son grow.  Friends shared their musical talents as we collectively left Shabbat with Havdallah – a marking of time that feels more precious these days when one day seems to blend into the next.  There was a happy surprise, a fab DJ, and I danced my heart out for the three songs that blared through the computer screen.  I’m sad to report I was not chosen as the winner of the dance contest, but I still finished the night with a smile on my face.

Why do I share this story with you?

I know there is grief in this moment, a loss of an opportunity to be with one another on the mall this Sunday.  Every house in America feels some sense of sadness – whether a lost job, lost precious moments as grandchildren grow and can’t hug their grandparents, so many layers to this moment.  I lose the chance to tell your families, face to face, how much I adore you.

But like the Bar Mitzvah, I hope you’ll make a choice this weekend and for the weeks to come as we all navigate this moment in history.  You can choose to view this moment in your lives as an offramp to the highway, or you can choose to view this moment as the highway itself.  This may feel like a pause, but THIS. IS. IT.  Life is messy and all the accolades in the world don’t speak truly to a person’s resilience.  My staff knows that when I hire employees, I rarely do it based on their resumes – I do it based on whether I want to hang out with them.  Are they kind?  Are they curious?  Do they listen closely to what the world is trying to tell them?  There is no pause in being the best person you are called to be.

I’d like to call this – the power of Achshav – NOW.  In parshat Re’eh, which we’ll read in a few months, the opening verse states: ‘Behold, I place before you TODAY, a blessing and a curse.’  HaYom Bracha – Rabbi Isaac Bakhshi noted the placement of these words side by side is no accident.  TODAY, ACHSHAV, NOW is the blessing.

You have spent four years with so many distractions.  Texts & TikTok, Blackboard & BS.  But I’ve noticed something magical happening in the last weeks.  Students are answering emails.  They are picking up the phone on the first ring.  They are present and ready to connect.  HaYom Bracha.

GW has taught so many of you to leap and strive.  More on that resume!  More on that social media feed!  More networking!  But I believe this is not what the class of 2020 will be remembered for.  You, my friends, may just be the leaders of the next generation that redefines what MORE means.  More deepened relationships.  More thoughtfulness about the person you want to be and the values you want to hold. More time spent on the things that are important.  More willing to spend less on STUFF and spend MORE on tzedakah and equalizing the great disparities in this country.  Today is the blessing – and you have all the skills you need to do good things – not “when normal returns” but ACHSHAV.  TODAY.

All of us at Hillel could not be prouder of you – and as always, know you’ll always have an open door and open hearts waiting for you in Foggy Bottom.


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