Staci Eichelbaum, HAT Class of 2005

by | Aug 16, 2013 | Other News

Staci Eichelbaum JMU Class of 2013.

Staci Eichelbaum JMU Class of 2013.

In July, I excitedly boarded a plane from Norfolk to start my new career with AIPAC in Houston, Texas. As I quickly worked to find a new apartment, pack my clothing, book tickets, and make plans to begin my life in Houston, I couldn’t help but look back on my upbringing in Tidewater and consider how it has shaped me into the person I am today.

In first grade, I made the leap from the Jewish Community Center’s preschool to Hebrew Academy of Tidewater. Looking back, I realize the education I received at HAT went beyond vocabulary, reading and grammar.

When I graduated from HAT, I was as prepared as any other student in the area, but I had more tools in my back pocket. I was able to stand in front of a large crowd and feel confident to present myself in a poised manner, thanks to the years of plays and performances we, as students, created and executed. I was able to make independent and concrete decisions based on the freedom and independence I was allowed. I was able to write a research paper without being overwhelmed, thanks to the study and research skills I was taught, which happen to be the same skills I used all through college. I was able to leave HAT with lifelong friendships, people I still call when I need a true friend, who truly understand me. I was able to walk into the world with a strong foundation of my heritage, thanks to weekly parsha classes and relating daily activities to our Jewish background.

This foundation has allowed me to explore the world without forgetting where I come from.

My graduating class had 16 students. At James Madison University I was reunited with three of those graduates. While we had gone separate ways in high school, there was a special feeling seeing these people around campus. Sitting on the quad at JMU one day, I ran into Carley Oser who attended HAT with me. We sat in the sunny spring weather and talked for an hour, picking up just where we left off. Those HAT friendships have special bonds, sharing a common history that can never be replicated.

In a time when anti-Semitism is rising around the world, the greatest gift I received from my parents was a strong Jewish foundation. I admit I am not the most religious, but my foundation at HAT has taught me what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be part of a community. My work with BBYO, Israel, and with the Jewish community, including a pro-Israel annual event for college students, stemmed from the sense of community I received at Hebrew Academy.

Walking through the halls of HAT continues to bring up memories no other childhood could create. If any parent or student is contemplating making the transition to HAT, I have three words to say: please do it. We are lucky to live in a world where Jews can attend any school. We have the ability to create a new generation of students who will be able to walk into the world with strong and confident backgrounds, the same way I did. A Jewish Community Day School education from Hebrew Academy truly makes a difference.