Sergeant Candido Elejalde visiting with Rambam students
Sergeant Candido Elejalde visiting with Rambam students
Sergeant Candido Elejalde visiting with Rambam students

Hasbara Project. This past Sunday marked the inception of a joint initiative between Rambam Mesivta and Congregation Beth Sholom to combat the anti-Israel rhetoric that is so prevalent in the media and on college campuses.

Approximately 40 participants viewed the airing of the film Beneath the Helmet, which depicted the life and challenges of 18-year-olds in Israel who enter the army as part of their mandatory national service.

Rabbi Yotav Eliach, Rambam’s principal, briefly introduced the program and recounted some of his experiences as a soldier and reservist in the IDF. He stated that the recent attempts on behalf of Arab terrorist groups to undermine Israel’s security and strike fear in the Israeli population by attacking innocent people has only strengthened the resolve of our soldiers and united our people even further.

The film describes the transformation in mindset of an 18-year-old as he turns from a high-school student into a man who is prepared to sacrifice his life to defend his country.

Soldiers from various countries and ethnic backgrounds were interviewed and all expressed the sentiment that war was not something they look forward to but rather was something they accept as a harsh reality of being a Jew and a citizen of Israel. All were prepared to do whatever needed to be done to defend their families, their friends, and their country.

After the film, Rabbi Eliach fielded questions for approximately 30 minutes and all those who attended eagerly anticipate the next film in the series, The J Street Challenge, which will be shown at Rambam on Sunday morning, December 14 at 9:45 a.m.

Subsequent films and lectures will be held at Congregation Beth Sholom on Sunday, February 1, and Sunday, March 1.

Kristallnacht Commemoration. November 9 and 10 marked the 76th anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass.” Rambam commemorates this day of infamy with special programming, speakers, and oftentimes rallies outside the homes of Nazi war criminals.

This year’s program was a combination of a study of history and Torah perspectives. Mr. Joel Berkowitz, noted Rambam Jewish-history teacher, gave a brief summary of what transpired and shared with the students original newspaper clippings and rare historical documentation of the pre-Holocaust era. He pointed out that the groundwork for anti-Semitism was put in place in Germany during the years of Martin Luther. “The decree of Luther called for Germany to confiscate Jewish property, burn Jewish books, destroy their houses of worship, and arrest Jews on the street–exactly those very same anti-Semitic laws promulgated by the Nazi regime,” said Mr. Berkowitz.

Rabbi Yotav Eliach showed some gripping footage of Kristallnacht and reminded the talmidim that evil can flourish when good people fail to act. Addressing the students at Rambam directly, he said, “It has been our tradition to speak out against evil, because it is in fact our obligation to do so.”

Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman identified some of the lessons we can derive from Kristallnacht. He pointed out that contrary to the opinion of many historians, the Holocaust did not begin with Kristallnacht, but rather began with the virulently anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws in the early 1930s. He also said, “The Torah teaches us that YaakovAvinu noticed the subtle facial expressions of Lavan and responded accordingly. We too face threats from Iran, Hamas, and their ilk and must do what we can in a proactive manner to thwart the threat.”

He also mentioned that human nature does not change, and evil people have within them the potential to perpetrate the worst atrocities under conditions that will allow it.

“Ultimately,” said Rabbi Friedman, “we must do everything in our power to defend KlalYisrael–which includes utilizing the tools on earth that are available to us with a life of Torah and mitzvos which hopefully will enable us to merit siyattad’Shmaya.”

Honoring U.S. Military Veteran. Continuing a tradition started over two decades ago of showing hakaras ha’tov to the United States for the freedom we, as Jews, enjoy in the United States of America, Rambam Mesivta commemorated Veterans Day by honoring a hero of the United States military. What made this year’s Veterans Day assembly even more powerful was the fact that the veteran in attendance, Sergeant Candido Elejalde of the 101st Airborne Division, 7th Armored Corps Division, and the 77th Infantry Division, was a friend of some Rambam seniors who met him while they were all volunteering on a Sar-El military base in Israel during last January vacation. Senior Dovid Rosenzweig and Rabbi Eliach kept in touch with Sergeant Elejalde and arranged for him and his wife to be at Rambam for this special event.

Rabbi Eliach began the program by showing a moving video featuring veterans explaining to the next generation the importance of military service and each one declaring, “I fought for you.” The tone was set, and Rabbi Eliach introduced Sergeant Elejalde as a veteran of the Gulf War who served in the United States Army for 28 years. The sergeant described his desire to join the U.S. military after spending ten years in a Cuban prison for being on the wrong side of a political conflict. He felt a close connection to the U.S. and wanted to give back to a country that offered him freedom.

He volunteers on Israeli military bases during his vacation because he feels that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is a friend of America in the war on terror.” The sergeant then answered questions before Mr. Goldman was called up to present him with a plaque.

Mr. Goldman shared that while it was an honor to present the plaque to Sergeant Elejalde, he felt that “the honor should go to the mitnadvim, the volunteers of Rambam, who served with him on the Israeli military base.”

So it was that Zach Beer, Shmuel Halbfinger, and Dovid Rosenzweig presented him with a plaque that read: “Rambam Mesivta is proud to present Sergeant Candido Elejalde, of the United States Army, with this token of appreciation for your sacrifice, courage, and commitment to defending freedom everywhere. Additionally, your dedication to the State of Israel through your service as a volunteer at Sar-El bases is both meritorious and inspiring. Please know that wherever G‑d takes you, you have the army of Rambam Mesivta praying for you and available to lend a hand to a hero who has given so much.”

The school also declared their commitment to the sergeant’s son, Jonathan Elejalde, who is currently serving in the 4th Infantry Division stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. Rabbi Eliach pledged that, as Rambam does every year, they would adopt Jonathan’s unit and send hundreds of pounds of goods.

The program then concluded with Rabbi Eliach reading the “Prayer for the American Military Forces” in Hebrew followed by Mr. Goldman reading it in English. It was a moving event that reminded everyone to be appreciative of those who protect our freedom. Sergeant Elejalde’s final words to the school were, “Since leaving the Army, this has been one of the happiest days of my life.”

West Hempstead Tisch. With an emphasis this year on achdus, Mr. Goldman held his annual tisch at his home in West Hempstead. Shabbos started with everyone eating at their homes with the many Rambam guests who came from Brooklyn, Queens, Great Neck, Plainview, and the Five Towns to join in the ruach.

It was then time to come together and sing, hear divreiTorah, and eat some “mad, phat, crazy, (and this year) beastly” cholent prepared by Mrs. Goldman.

Before the cholent, Mr. Goldman had a surprise: This would not only be a tisch, but also a seudasmitzvah, as he made a siyum on MasechesSukkah.

Most students stayed for about three hours, but seniors and alumni wanted some more as they sang and chilled even longer. A select few seniors stuck around even longer to play a game with Mr. Goldman–this would be their last West Hempstead tisch as Rambam students and they wanted to make it memorable.

The next day most people met up in the Young Israel of West Hempstead teen minyan. Everyone then had a relaxing afternoon with their peers and went home happy that night. Thanks to the West Hempstead crew for hosting this amazing Shabbos.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here