Graduations at Jewish day schools may go digital
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Graduations at Jewish day schools may go digital

Community Day School, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh and Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh strategize end of year celebrations.

CDS 8th graders participate in a Kabbalat Shabbat service prior to the pandemic. 

Photo courtesy of Community Day School
CDS 8th graders participate in a Kabbalat Shabbat service prior to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Community Day School

Pomp and circumstance may be going high-res. Despite COVID-19 concerns shuttering schools and suspending in-person gatherings, leaders of the city’s three Jewish day schools are exploring various possibilities regarding upcoming graduations, including the likelihood of hosting the springtime celebrations online.

With Passover now complete, and students and staff at Community Day School, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh and Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh returning to digital instruction, administrators at the Jewish day schools have begun sharing plans pertaining to graduations and end-of-year celebrations.

Prior to COVID-19 uprooting daily life, Community Day School’s eighth-graders were scheduled to graduate the morning of May 22. The early childhood through grade eight institution is still committed to that date, explained Mark Minkus, head of intermediate school and middle school at Community Day School.

To honor the eighth-graders, Community Day School will be having a “celebration of the CDS Class of 2020 that morning,” he said. “This virtual event will mark this significant milestone, recognize their accomplishments and take a joyous walk down memory lane.”

The digital commemoration is not intended to replace future in-person festivities, according to Minkus. Looking ahead, “we are committed to having a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony once we are able to do so, most likely on a Sunday in the fall,” he said.

Like everyone else, “we are monitoring the current situation,” said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy’s principal. “Our primary goal is the safety of our students and families, but at the same time we find it imperative to create a meaningful capstone experience for our graduates and their families.”

Administrators and others involved in the planning process have begun examining different options for virtual graduations as they relate to kindergarten, grade eight and high school students. The various events originally were scheduled to take place nearly six weeks from now.

Although the details of the revamped events have not yet been confirmed, “graduation will be a collaborative effort with students and families,” stressed Weinberg. “We are committed to making sure that graduation will be a fun and meaningful experience for everyone.”

CDS 8th graders gather for prayer prior to the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Community Day School

By design, graduation will be collaborative, echoed Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, Yeshiva Schools’ educational director. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, school leaders assembled a committee of 20 parents to facilitate the transition to digital instruction. That committee will now, with the help of others, plan the various preschool, grade eight and high school graduations, he said.

Currently, “there is a lot of unknown,” Rosenblum noted. “We know that school until the end of the year will be online,” but details regarding graduation ceremonies are less certain.

Rosenblum would like to have an in-person celebration for graduates when it is safe to do so, but noted that an added wrinkle is the fact that several of the school’s students are from out of town. The parent committee, administrators and families will work toward finding a date that works for everyone, he said.

With details and precautions regarding COVID-19 rapidly changing, there is a difficulty in planning too far ahead. For now, Yeshiva Schools will “celebrate graduation virtually,” and later on, “if the governor and the medical people allow us to do something in one of our buildings, we’ll do that.”

What’s been beneficial during this period, both when it comes to thinking about graduation or how to best operate online instruction during a pandemic, has been collaborating with other schools, said Rosenblum.

The partnerships have reminded him of a guiding principle, he continued: When it comes to graduation, or schooling in general, “we will do the best we can under the circumstances that the Torah would want us to do.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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