Remarks by Amy Gold – EHS Annual Meeting, June 5, 2024

When the school year started back on September 4, 2023, it was filled with so much promise. Finally, a year that no one was thinking about COVID and restrictions. A year that heralded the largest enrollment in over ten years— 110 students. A school opening that had been preceded by a joyous Gala celebration the previous May in honor of Israel’s 75th birthday. Our community hosted the acclaimed Israeli musician David Broza and Israel activist and author Noa Tishby. Who could have known that Noa would become a household name as the unofficial spokesperson, champion, and relentless activist for Israel.

October 7, 2023, now joins September 11, 2001, as being synonymous with terror. We will all remember where we were when we first heard what was happening in the early morning hours of shabbat in Israel. I had just gone to sleep on Friday night when not long after, my son woke me up at 1:30 am telling me of the nightmare unfolding in Israel. He was getting WhatsApp messages real time from several friends in the IDF. The events that unfolded throughout that day are too horrific to recount or comprehend. In the span of 24 hours, the entire school year would be changed. As the Head of a Jewish day school, I was immediately back in crisis mode. How do we talk to the children? How do we keep our school safe? How do we show our solidarity with Israel? How do we support the Israelis in our EHS community?

In times of crisis, we look to our values to guide us. At EHS that means Potential, Identity, Curiosity, Intellect, Compassion, and Community. Every lesson, every activity, every gathering at this school is rooted in these values. Our response to October 7th would be no different. The Chinese character for crisis has two parts: danger and turning point. American President John F. Kennedy commented on this. “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger— but recognize the opportunity.” October 7th forced us to reckon with our sense of safety and our identity as a Jewish people. It spurred us into action to help process, heal, and grow. We used our heads to learn, engaged our hearts to empathize, and hands and feet to make change. Over 100 people attended our evening of learning on November 7th to better understand life on the Gaza envelope at places like Kibbutzim Kfar Aza and Be’eri. More than 200 of you joined us to raise money for the rebuilding of Kibbutz Nahal Oz. I’m very proud to say we donated $17,000 to help the rebuilding efforts. Just a few weeks later, Israeli refugee families started arriving on the North Shore and soon EHS welcomed 11 Israeli children into the loving embrace of our school community. These families described the experience as “having landed in Gan Eden.” One day their children were sitting in their safe rooms and the next they were learning math, science, and art alongside new classmates. Playdates were being arranged, Shabbat dinner invitations were being extended, and winter boots and coats were being offered. Our Israeli students told us that learning at EHS was fun and it made going back bittersweet when the time came. Their parents were moved to tears by the sincerity and passion which our community exhibited each week singing Hatikva at kabbalat Shabbat. When it was time for them to go back home, one family wrote, ”Meeting you and your beautiful school was an exceptional experience for us, and we feel lucky, privileged, and grateful for the last two months. We have no doubts that the time spent at Hillel will stay with our son for many years to come.” EHS, bringing its values of identity, compassion and community to life.

October 7th reminded us that we are one people no matter how far apart we live. We are a resilient people who value each other and will always stand proud. Many of us grew up never worrying about antisemitism. Sadly, that is not the case today which makes an EHS education all the more important. Hopefully you saw our recent advertisement in the Jewish Journal— it is a call to action. The next generation needs the outstanding secular education that EHS provides coupled with a strong infusion of Jewish values, identity, and commitment to Israel to the Jewish people. When you ask EHS alumni about their experiences in high school and beyond, there are three common responses: I was very prepared academically so I’m taking advanced classes; my peers don’t feel nearly as confident as I do with public speaking, and I am comfortable talking with my teachers, asking questions, and leading group projects. These outcomes are based on big and small moments that are thoughtfully implemented into daily life at EHS.

What other school has kindergarteners greeting guests in the classroom, introducing themselves, and explaining their learning? What other school has first graders eagerly visiting staff members in their offices each week to read aloud? What other school has second graders harvesting vegetables for the whole school? Where else can you find third and fourth graders performing plays in Hebrew? Where can you find a special fifth grade program that promotes executive functioning and independence? What other school teaches upper school students to be leaders through a two year program that incorporates advocacy, team work, budgeting, communication, and action? Amidst all of this, students are learning to speak Hebrew, read from the Torah, think critically and make moral judgments which will serve them throughout their lives. What other school takes the time to teach social emotional learning that students at a young age learn to connect their thoughts, feelings, and behavior? They are learning to recognize others’ emotions while regulating their own. These life-long skills morph into restorative circles in upper school where they learn to build consensus, disagree respectfully, and listen actively with an open mind.

An EHS education is a gift whose value will only become greater into the future when parents will see their children’s confidence, leadership, integrity, and sound judgment based on a moral compass. The first yahrzeit of Arthur J. Epstein z”l was last Friday. While he is no longer with us, I know he would be proud of this school which bears his name. Our graduates will be the leaders in their high schools; they will be the builders of bridges amongst their peers; they will be the proud strong articulate passionate Jews who will stand with Israel and their community. It all starts at EHS because of the incredibly dedicated faculty and staff who come to school each day, some of whom commute more than an hour. Todah rabah to my teachers, staff, and administrators who choose to work at EHS, a place where the adults see the potential in each child. A school where children open themselves up to new challenges and gain the confidence, resilience, and courage to be successful in what lies ahead. We need more people in our world with an EHS education, now more than ever.