By Rabbi Hillel Goldman, Assistant Principal, Rambam Mesivta
The scene is Rambam Mesivta on a Wednesday night.
I walk into the beis midrash and I see a junior, surrounded by Rambam students and strangers who have become friends, and he is giving shiur.
Only 20 minutes ago, he was sitting in my English class. He was a student, diligently taking notes, raising his hand, asking questions, and delivering answers. He was what you would hope any 17-year-old boy could be.
Now I see him and he is a leader of men.
He sits at the head of the table, not because he demanded it or sought it out, but because it is where he was ushered. In front of him is a Chumash and he is encircled by his fellow Rambam students and his Ohel Bais Ezra chavrusahs. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is learning. And everyone feels the energy and the impact of what can happen when two like-minded groups refuse to see disabilities or difference and only see potential.
The Ohel and Rambam chavrusah program began three years ago, thanks to the assistance of Jennifer Gruenfeld, Ohel volunteers coordinator, with the humble idea that it would be nice for the boys at Rambam to learn with the individuals from Ohel Bais Ezra’s many programs for those challenged by developmental disabilities. What happened instead was a transformative experience that has resulted in friendships made, barriers being broken, and meaningful Torah being shared. When I see the men from Ohel come into Rambam, their faces light up as they run to hug their Rambam chavrusahs. The Ohel advisers tell me that the individuals from Ohel “look forward to learning at Rambam all week and they talk about it all week.” I know our guys feel the same way.
Every week, led by Sam Cohen and Yehuda Moskovits, two juniors at Rambam, and the Ohel/Rambam chavrusah regulars, Moshe Blank, Michael Benzakein, Sam Goldstein, Gavriel Lazari, Netanel Muskat, and Phillip Nagler, eagerly wait by the front entrance of Rambam to welcome their chavrusahs. “It was a great experience for us as well as the Ohel guys. We couldn’t have done it without all of the guys who were willing to show up every week and learn,” explained Sam Cohen. Yehuda Moskovits noted, “I had so much fun getting to know all of the guys at Ohel and learning about the parashah with them every week. It truly was an incredible experience and I can’t wait for next year.”
The culmination of this year’s learning program was a BBQ at my parents’ home in Lawrence. Rosh mesivta of Rambam, Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, and I shared words of Torah, and delicious burgers, hot dogs, watermelon, and dessert were enjoyed by all. Mrs. Laurie Szenicer, senior development coordinator for Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, made a point of stopping by and letting the Rambam talmidim know how appreciated their time and efforts have been and what an impact they have made on the lives of the Ohel individuals. v