Everything in life is a balancing act. Thankfully, most things don't rely on physical balance — my inability to make it past the "advanced beginner" status as an amateur gymnast is proof I would not succeed in a world where standing on one leg is the definitive measure of success. But rather, life is an exercise in making sure you have just the right amount of everything for things to run smoothly. At 18, I can't think of an experience I've had so far in life that demonstrates this idea more than high school. From academics, to extracurriculars, to social lives, experiencing high school is a bit like trying to walk a tightrope with people throwing things at you from either side. Even as an outgoing senior, keeping your balance in this mess of obligations and expectations can be daunting, so I'm sure you can only imagine what it would feel like trying to navigate this experience as an incoming freshman.
Yet, though subject to the same high school experience as other students, I can't help but have noticed throughout my four years at St. Louis Park High School that HMJDS graduates uniquely succeed despite the obstacles. I can only attribute this to the profound emphasis HMJDS places on not only teaching exceptional academics, but also on teaching the exceedingly elusive skill of balance. As an HMJDS student, I learned so many forms of balance — from religious vs. secular, to academics vs. extracurriculars, to making friends vs. learning individuality and gaining independence.
With regard to finding a balance between the secular and the religious, I recall a social studies unit where we read the story of a Jewish girl fleeing the Inquisition as a means to explore mass immigrations throughout world history. This girl's heritage was my heritage, providing a personal connection to the content we were studying I have yet to experience in a public school classroom where there is no opportunity for the integration of secular history and religious history. This lesson was one of many that provided my peers and myself with the opportunity to learn in balance. As I entered high school, I began to see that this style of teaching and learning had given me the skills to successfully personalize my education, striving to integrate personal interests and connections in projects that I've completed over the past four years. In terms of the balance between academics and extracurriculars, HMJDS' abundance of afterschool and extracurricular activities from sports to the arts provided me with early experiences in managing my time to fulfill commitments, a skill without which I could not have found success later in high school. And finally, experiences in balancing friendships and personal individuality abounded throughout my time at HMJDS. Between the Wolf Ridge and Duluth trip in sixth grade, where I remember exploring the North Shore and city with my peers, to the 8th grade DC trip where I recall an unforgettable evening getting stuck on the National Mall at 1am after we missed the last Metro Train, my HMJDS experience provided endless opportunities to connect and strengthen bonds with my peers, while simultaneously discovering my own independence both within and beyond the walls of the school.
These are but a few of the many examples of how HMJDS worked to teach us the value of balance and how we might strive to achieve it. This week's parshah, Behar, discusses the commandment of shmita — the period of time every seven years when we must allow our land to rest. The practice of shmita is, in a sense, a way to embrace balance and push us to experience it in our day-to-day lives. With shmita, we find our balance with producing and working our land, and taking the time to allow it to rest. Similarly, in life, we must know how to balance work and take time for ourselves. This fits well into the larger picture of the balances necessary to finding success each day. Though a shmita year ended fairly recently and we won't have another one for a while, that doesn't mean the we have to discontinue our efforts to balance our lives. As I prepare to attend college next year, I know that being able to find a balance in life will only become more important and more challenging. However, I feel confident that with the early and steadfast foundation of understanding the value of balance that I learned at HMJDS, the transition will be difficult, yet entirely manageable, and for that I'm extraordinarily thankful.