On Wednesday, June 19, Ezra Academy held its annual graduation, an event that symbolizes the close of a chapter for the seniors – the end of a chapter filled with skills, growth, and memories that will last them long into their future stages of life. This year’s class was the largest in recent history, showing not only the growth of the seniors but the growth that the school itself has been experiencing.

The evening began with the procession of the senior class followed by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and HaTikvah. The students were then addressed by Rabbi Ilan Meirov, Founder and Director of Chazaq, who drove home the message of how much potential each and every one of us has. We are called “adam,” man, who was created from the “adamah,” earth. The same way a plant grows from the earth, fulfilling its potential, so can every one of us. “Ezra gives you the seeds to succeed” was not only the inspirational message Rabbi Meirov gave, but a recounting of his own personal experience. He himself began his teaching career in Ezra Academy, teaching Torah one morning a week to three boys, in a special program the school had 17 years ago.

Rabbi Yitzchak Sladowsky, Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Park Jewish Center and one of the founders of Ezra, spoke next. Relating a similar idea to that of Rabbi Meirov, he spoke about Aharon’s special job of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan. Rashi twice makes reference to the idea that one needs to strive to grow, once from the halachah that the flames have to catch and ascend on their own, and from the requirement of steps leading up to the Menorah.

Abigail Aronova, the Valedictorian, stressed a different but equally important message from the parshah in her address. We are familiar with the fact that Miriam contracted tzaraas, leprosy. While the entire nation waited for her to heal, it was Moshe who made sure to pray for her. It was with a focus on this idea that Abi reminded her classmates to love each and every Jew and to truly and sincerely care for them the same way Moshe did for Miriam. She then reminisced upon her years at Ezra and what they meant to her class at large and herself specifically.

Ms. Sima Fish, Esq., the new principal of Ezra Academy, briefly addressed the graduates to thank them for helping her learn the ropes as a new administrator, and left them with the message that the real work starts now as they graduate. Quoting the idea of “l’fum tzaara agra” from Pirkei Avos, she warned them that there are no short cuts in life. She reminded them of all the lessons they were taking with them as they continued on to adulthood and wished them success in their learning, their academic pursuits, and their development in the professional world.

The awarding of diplomas was done with a little extra touch. As has been Ezra tradition, when each graduate is called up to receive his or her diploma as well as a special gift from the school, each one receives a personalized introduction. A short paragraph, written by a staff member, and oftentimes humorous, reflects on each student’s time and accomplishments at Ezra. These short summaries often linger with them as the final touch of their high school education, and transforms what can be a long and tedious ceremony into an endearing and sweet one.

The evening concluded with parting words from Rabbi Freilich, the Dean. His message was simple, sweet, and from the depth of his heart. “Farewell from Ezra is not goodbye” are words he truly means. Having been at the helm of the school since day one, over 50 years ago, Rabbi Freilich has shared this sentiment with many classes before and has kept true to these words. Students often come back and visit, sometimes to say hello, other times to talk things out, and yet other times to introduce their children to their teachers and vice versa. Rabbi Freilich invited the newest installment of Ezra graduates to join those who call Ezra home. He congratulated the Ezra class of 2019 to a round of applause and cheering, and with the launching of their caps into the air a new group of alumni proudly joined their predecessors.