Better than a phone call. Seldom does a week go by without one of the Rambam alumni calling the mesivta to talk to Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Eliach, Rabbi Haar, Mr. Goldman, or one of the rebbeim or teachers. They call to schmooze, ask questions, or simply to say good Shabbos!
While these phone calls truly are a pleasure, what the boys enjoy even more is the annual reunion Shabbaton held in Israel when Rabbi Friedman comes to visit them. For the past two decades, it has become a tradition to spend an entire Shabbos together in Yerushalayim or at one of the yeshivot where the boys are learning. In years past, Rabbi Friedman has organized Shabbatonim in yeshivot Har Etzion, HaKotel, Torat Shraga, and Ohr Yerushalayim. This year’s get-together was held in Migdal HaTorah. Talmidim from shanahaleph and bet and even shanah gimmel made the trek to Modi’in for an amazing, ruach-filled, learning-filled Shabbos.
The boys heard shiurim from guest rosheiyeshiva, Rav Chaim Ozer Chait and Rabbi Dr. Ginsberg, a former Rambam parashahrebbe. On Friday night, after the seudah, Rabbi Friedman gave a shiur and conducted a lively three-hour session on the topic of “Bechirah and How to Make Right Choices.” After midnight, the discussions broke up only to continue the next day during the second seudah. The meals were permeated with zemiros and divreiTorah, with virtually all of the boys piping in with some chiddush or vort on the parashah. After a short break, boys reassembled for another shiur with Rabbi Friedman followed by Minchah and a rousing session of singing during the third seudah. The singing, divreiTorah, and camaraderie continued way past the twinkling of three stars. After Ma’ariv and Havdallah, the boys got together for a group picture and headed back to their respective yeshivot, exhilarated by the experience. One of the talmidim, speaking on behalf of everyone, best summed it up by saying, “This truly was an amazing Shabbaton. I think it was the best one I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for organizing this and coming to see us.”
Rabbi Friedman shared the sentiment and said, “I get so much nachas seeing how our boys continue to grow in Torah and middos as a result of the wonderful yeshivot they attend. It really is such a special experience to spend a Shabbos together with the chevrah, and I’m already looking forward to next year!”
MK Yoni Chetboun comes to Rambam. Students at Rambam were privileged to hear from Knesset member Maj. Yoni Chetboun, who spoke about his experiences in Lebanon and the upcoming Israeli elections. He was a member of the Golani Brigade and later was chosen to join the elite Egoz Reconnaissance Unit. During the war with Hezbollah in 2006, he found himself under the command of Roi Klein.
In the battle of Binat Jbeil, Roi, who was not at the time a religious soldier, responded to a grenade thrown at his troops by reciting out loud, “Shema Yisrael,” jumping on the grenade, and saving the lives of many of the soldiers. Chetboun was thrust into a leadership position and assumed the command of the remaining soldiers. He led his men on a mission to neutralize the Hezbollah force and was awarded the medal for his leadership role.
On his return to civilian life, he entered the world of politics and joined the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett. Elected to the Knesset, he demonstrated leadership and independent thinking, refusing to go along with his party’s approach that criminalized those who sought to learn Torah instead of enlisting in the army. He said, “Both defenses are necessary—those who choose to join Tzahal and those who learn Torah full-time.”
Chetboun recounted that during the difficult battle in Lebanon, when he led his men in a charge across an open field, he closed his eyes for a split second and saw a picture of his wife and three children. He had no idea if he would survive the battle. A second later with bullets whizzing in front of his face, he recalled a halachah that he learned in yeshiva. “The Rambam says that during a time of war, a soldier is prohibited from thinking about his family, lest it impact on his ability to complete his mission. When I thought about this halachah, I kept my focus on the battle. I believe that it saved my life.”
He told students in Rambam that the most difficult challenge he faced during the battle was not the fact that he saw his friends in the unit killed or maimed. Those were very difficult to see and deal with. However, “If you ask me about what the greatest challenge was I would have to say it was making the split-second decisions about moving forward in the face of death. What the right strategy is under the most difficult of circumstances requires one to make decisions. All of you will have to make decisions in life; whether they are about your family, your school, your community, or our nation, those are all decisions that you are empowered to make.”
A question and answer period followed. When asked what he recommended should be done to motivate chareidim to join the army, he responded, “Forced pressure does not work, it must be done by inspiring them and enabling them to buy in. We must recognize that this is a process that will take some time.” Afterwards, Rabbi Friedman asked him about his thoughts on making government financing of the Israel Day Parade conditional on disallowing the New Israel Fund and other groups that promote BDS from marching, and he responded, “That is a very interesting idea and perhaps we will make this into a campaign issue in order to ensure that the parade remains a proud, truly pro-Israel event.”