Charge to the Confirmation Class of 5762
One moment, in particular, captures for me the confirmation class of 5762. It was our last class of the year. We were supposed to be reaching agreement on some basic Jewish principles that all our students could affirm. We, the teachers, had thought - naively, perhaps, that there were a few simple, non-controversial items that our students would accept right away. Things like helping others, perhaps, or givingtzedaka, or maybe the idea that it's good to be a Jew. We soon learned that we were living in a dream. As soon as a principle was proposed, our students jumped instantly into the fray. Voices soon filled the air: arguments and counter-arguments, questions, objections, contentions - all punctuated by loud bursts of laughter and giggles. A particularly fierce debate raged over whether or not they could say that it wascool to be Jewish.
As their voices rose and one principle after another went down in flames, we, the teachers, exchanged glances of despair. "My God," we thought. "What have we done? They don't believe inanything!"
And that was the moment when I wondered whether we'd ever get to this morning of Confirmation.
Each generation has its defining moment: some great shared experience that shapes the consciousness of all who live through it. For my grandparents, it was crossing the sea from the old country to a new land. For my parents, the Great Depression and the Second World War. For my generation the Kennedy assassination, introducing all the turmoil of the 60's, made us who we are today.
And for you, perhaps, it will be September 11th that is the date you will remember for the rest of your lives.
As Jews, your generation is also defined by the second intifada - an experience that has left you with images of Israel very different from those with which your parents and grandparents grew up.
But generations are defined not only by what they go through; they defined by the way they respond to the world they are given.
You've been given a world that is more frightening and dark than any of us would wish. We - your parents and grandparents and teachers - would so much like to offer you a future without terrorism and war shadowing the horizon - a world in which you could grow and unfold your talents in freedom, joy and peace.
But asJewish parents and grandparents and teachers, we give you, along with our sorrow and regret for this world, something more. We give you three gifts that we hope you will always hold close to your hearts. We give you, first of all, our love. We love your open, searching minds; your arguments and your debates; we love your keen questions and your thirst to understand. We love your kind hearts and your laughter and your bold imaginations. We love the sound of your voices - each one so distinctive to you: some gentle and thoughtful, some loud and sassy. We love your incredible spirit.
We give you, secondly, our faith. We believe in you, even when you don't believe in yourselves. We can see the goodness and strength shining through in your souls, so beautifully transparent, even when you're being too cool for words.
And as our third gift we give you Torah: teachings we share with those who came before. We have given them to you because we love these teachings, and have faith in them, just as we love and believe in you. We trust that they will lift you up and sustain you, as they have carried countless generations of our people through their own dark times.
Our portion for this Shabbat isBeha'alotecha, named for its opening phrase: "be'ha'alotecha et ha-nerot - when you lift up the sacred lamps" [Num.8:2].
Confirmation class of 5762: we have given you a troubled, frightening world in which you will have to make your way. But we are with you as fellow travelers; we stand by you always, for you are precious to us.
And we know that you will use your minds and your hearts and your bold imaginations to make things better. We know that your laughter can't be squelched and your spirits can't be quenched. Your teachers know especially that your voices can never be stilled.
So we offer you our blessing on this day of celebration, and along with that, our gratitude and hope and trust. For though you'll defend to the death your right to disagree, we know that you live in a way that affirms your powerful beliefs. And though we walk in darkness at this historical moment, we know that each of you will lift up the sacred lamp and bring light into the world.