Elementary school ended June 29 in Israel, and most elementary schools have a "graduation" program for their 6th graders. I was invited to one at the public religious school next door last night at 8 p.m. Netzach Yisrael is a school filled with immigrants, around 50% are Ethiopian-Israeli. Many of the children come from families with low social-economic means. Yet the school bubbles with the enthusiasm of the students.
28 youth were moving on to middle school, Two of the boys were taller than the rest and looked a lot older. They may have only arrived in Israel recently, hence the placement. After waiting 30 minutes for all the parents to arrive (we started late, but it was more important that all the parents be there), 19 boys and 9 girls, of whom 9 boys and 4 girls were Ethiopian-Israelis, paraded in from the main school gate. The boys went first, followed by 2 musicians (drummer and guitar) playing "Gesher Tzar Meod." The musicians then returned to lead the girls in, playing a newer upbeat Adon Olam tune. All the boys wore white shirts and girls wore white tops and skirts. It was Netzach's 41st sixth grade graduation.
Six years ago, the principal Ayala Hadjaj came to the school and was given two years to salvage it or close it down. She succeeded so well in bettering this school that in 2006 the school won a national competition and was named the best religious elementary school in the country. This graduating class entered first grade when Ayala came and began to rescue the school.
The mini-auditorium was festively decorated with balloons and a huge sign announcing in gold letters the 41st graduation of 6th graders with Herzl's famous quote in Hebrew below, "If you will it, it is no dream."
The graduates semi-marched in following a girl holding the Israeli flag high. The program began with them singing two songs, energetically and mostly on key. They went on to sing 3 or 4 more times, including fill ins when things did not move quite according to the program.
Highlights of the evening included a speech by Mayor Moti Malka. He praised the principal Ayala as a women who is doing "holy" work, who turned around the school into a second home for her "children," each one of whom she cares for dearly. He praised the staff too as a very committed and caring team, a rather unusual quality in this country. (He later moved on to talk at the other elementary schools graduations. There are a total of 5 in town.)
Other highlights included a "Word of Torah" on the weekly portion "Korach" by a young local rabbi affiliated with the school, several dance-exercises by the students. One was with many flags of Israel and the students interpreting the song "Od M'-at Artza," a song of Ethiopians traveling to Israel. They also did a ribbon dance and used poles to make a Magen David in honor of Israel's 60th,
and sang three well-known songs about this country. The music director sang a special song to all the mothers with the youth then giving their mom's roses. Two representatives of the parent committee spoke--one giving thanks and the other giving a blessing and words of thought to the graduates. The principal spoke twice. In the first talk she referred to her arrival and these parents not knowing what to make of this "crazy lady" who put them to work painting the school to cheer it up. Later she gave many thanks to her staff--all in poetry. She invited the graduates to come back to their "home" any time, and to invite her to future graduatioins---AND their weddings. I'm sure they will.
After the students each received a picture of themselves, a certificate mounted with the pictures of all classmates on it, a home blessing, and a Tanach (Bible), all went outside for a feast, of many salads, fish, cold cuts, and soda. We all were greeted by fireworks from a nearby school's sixth grade graduation. In addition to food, I looked at the special booklets the students had written about themselves and their families. I was amazed at their computer skills and the obvious love with which they put the booklet together.
The program was long, but the youth were amazingly well behaved. A few yawned (since it might have been past their bedtime) but were very proud of their achievement and their performance.
As we were leaving, we saw and heard fireworks above. They were from the 6th grade graduation ceremony at HaAchim school, just a block away. I found out a few days later than the 5 public schools in town all held their 6th grade graduation ceremonies the same evening, and the mayor spoke at each one. At Eli Cohen school, the children put on a 90 minute long play which they helped to create, on the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. It too was a memorable evening for all those in attendance. In town, both the 6th grade and 12th grade graduations are celebrated with fanfare.