The number fifty holds special significance for the Jewish people. This weekend we complete the Counting of the Omer, the fifty-day count from the holiday of Passover to the festival of Shavuot, the latter of which is observed this Sunday and Monday. For the past seven weeks, the Jewish people have been observing the Torah’s command (Leviticus 23:15-16) to count fifty days, and each night, since the second night of Pesach, we have ended the evening service with the day’s count. While the Torah never explains the rationale for this enumeration, the period marks the fifty-day trek that the Israelites made from Egypt to Mount Sinai, from the Exodus to the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
This Wednesday and Thursday, our kindergarten classes performed their Moses Play, a dramatic recounting of the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Sinai through the life of Moshe. Our students told the story with song and dance, including a reenactment of the Sinai revelation—complete with the Ten Commandment tablets! Our kindergarteners narrated the evolution of our people from a nascent nation to a learned people, with the wisdom of Torah. The tale they told mirrored their own journey, from new elementary school children to students with facility in three languages and knowledge of the Jewish faith. It is truly remarkable how much our kindergarten students learned in just one year, and it happened because they had their very own Moses-like leaders to guide them, our phenomenal team of kindergarten teachers and assistants Lisa Bornstein, Amélie Côté, Fabienne Ifergan, Micaela Winton, Myriam Desgroseilliers, Adele Amsellem, Sylvia Oiknine and Gabriella Hasen. Thank you for all you taught our children, and for bringing them to the promised land of learning.
The number fifty also appeared recently in our weekly Torah reading. The Torah teaches (Leviticus 25) that every fifty years there is to be a yovel, a special semicentennial celebration. It is a holy year marked by the blowing of the shofar, the forgiveness of debts, and a work sabbatical for all of Israel. The English word jubilee is a translation of yovel, and carries with it the same festive spirit. This past Wednesday night Akiva marked the culmination of our yovel, of our jubilee year, with our Late Night at Akiva celebration. We commemorated fifty years of excellence and innovation in Jewish education, and the anniversary of our founding by Rabbi Dr. David Hartman in 1968. The night was filled with laughter and memories, and featured special testimonials from Cooki Levy, Nick Papanicolopoulos, Carrie Goldstein-Mazoff and Joel Segal.
I would like to thank all of those who participated in the event for bringing our jubilee year to such a grand finale. Special thank you to our chairs Angela Lehrer Vineberg and Melani Zarife Fudem and their committee for their tireless work in making it such a spectacular event. I would like to extend a personal thank-you to the incredible team of Akiva professionals for all of their creativity and unending efforts to make the Late Night meaningful and memorable. A heartfelt thank you to Cindy Warren, Andrea Szlamkowicz, Ilanna Besner and Stacy Smilovitch.
According to the Jewish mystical work the Zohar, the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned exactly fifty times in the Torah. The Exodus narrative, enacted by our kindergarteners, is the seminal event in Jewish history; its importance is expressed by its association with the number fifty. We hope that this fiftieth year will always be remembered as a milestone in Akiva history, a jubilee marking our remarkable past and our glorious future.