Trailblazing class of 2006 is Kehillahs first

From the day they stepped foot on campus, members of the class of 2006 at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto have been referred to as pioneers.

The 22 graduating seniors sealed their pioneer status as the first to graduate from the school before some 500 supporters attending the commencement ceremony Sunday, June 11 at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos.

“This ceremony not only honors the graduating class of 2006, but it also honors the culmination of hard work over the last seven years in making the school a reality,” said Bobby Lent, a trustee member and one of the founders of the school.

Today, Kehillah has more than 200 students enrolled in its ninth grade through 12th grade classes. And organizers think that number will continue to grow, especially with the class of 2006 doing as well as it did.

Their accomplishments were numerous and their hopes are even greater. The grads are heading to such colleges as Yale, American University, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Tufts and Brandeis, and Lent said that he could not be more proud of them.

Lent added that he thinks the accomplishments of the seniors speak to the potential of the school, and what should be expected from students in the future.

Kehillah opened its doors in San Jose in August 2002 with great intentions but without an organized student body, athletic teams or a yearbook.

Len Lehmann, a member of the board of trustees and one of the school’s founders, said that the idea to develop Kehillah derived simply from the lack of Jewish high schools in Silicon Valley.

“We couldn’t afford to put our kids on the streets with what training they received after their bar and bat mitzvahs,” Lehmann said. “And so many kids were discontinuing their Jewish education after the day schools that we wanted to create an opportunity for them to continue their Jewish education.”

With a diverse curriculum that focuses on literature, science, arts, technology and Talmud, Kehillah students have the opportunity to have a well-rounded education by the time they reach college, while continuing their Jewish learning.

The graduates demonstrated their skills at the ceremony, with each student speaking or performing during the commencement.

“We’ve been told that we are worse than a Jane Fonda workout video,” said graduates Ryan Wessels and Tani Berkowitz at the start of the ceremony. “Annoying as we may be, we are loud, memorable and revolutionary.”

The graduates organized a yearbook, sports teams and clubs. The class also helped get approval to have off-campus lunches.

Head of School Rabbi Reuven Greenvald referred to the students as trailblazers, and he commended them for choosing the road less traveled.

Student Rachel Schiff offered her parting thoughts, saying that with current events such as the genocide in Darfur, the proliferation of AIDS worldwide, and the strengthening of leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the voices of young adults do matter.

“We are facing these realities, and our generation can’t afford to sleep,” Schiff said in her white cap and gown. “As I say goodbye to Kehillah, I think, ‘We are such stuff that dreams are made of.'”

Principal Marion Peterson reminded the students of the motto that has been embedded in their minds: “To strive, to seek to find, and not to yield.”

In addition to faculty and student speakers, the graduation’s keynote speaker was Jason Kamras, who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2005. Originally from Sacramento, Kamras was recognized last year for his work as a middle-school math teacher in Washington, D.C.

The Kehillah graduates of 2006 are: Talia Robyn Abramovitz, Shira Alexander Aitchison, Eitan Gavriel Berkowitz, Eliot Russell Cady, Daniel Jonathan Epstein, Daniel Robert Fisher, Rachel Meta Halper, Arianna Miyako Hawkins, Steven Joseph Loitz, Nittany Sarah Manson, Samuel Lawrence Rosenblum, Laura Harriet Rubinstein-Salzedo, Rachel Melanie Schiff, Evan Hal Shapiro, Michael Aaron Silton, Avi Starr-Glass, Aviel Rachel Stern, Tammy Jennifer Toth, Hendrik Zvi Adriaan van der Loos, Ryan Heinrich Wessels, Avital Batsheva Wolf and Eli Louis Young.