Chesed shel Emes. This year’s freshman class spent a day cleaning up a cemetery during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. The talmidim boarded the bus with the determination to make a difference and pay respect to those who came before. In conjunction with the Hebrew Free Burial Society and the head of volunteer services, Rambam alumnus Andrew Parver, Class of 2001, this act of chesed has become an annual event at the mesivta for incoming freshman classes.
The volunteers spent the afternoon raking leaves, straightening tombstones, picking up garbage, and assisting in creating a serene and respectful environment for the denizens of Silver Lake Cemetery in Staten Island. The cemetery has been in the care of the Hebrew Free Burial Society for over 100 years and relies on volunteers like the Rambam Mesivta boys to maintain its dignity.
Upon their return to Rambam, it was evident that this experience had a profound impact on the talmidim. Freshmen who went on this chesed mission, unsure how they would react to what would be a strenuous day both physically and mentally, emerged standing tall and firm in the recognition that they could go outside their comfort zones in an effort to do chesed. They said “it was a meaningful day” and added that they “would appreciate going back and helping again.”
Appreciating what one has, helping others, acts of chesed: the hallmark of a Rambam Mesivta education, b’emes.
How Can We Help? While the rest of the ninth grade was engaged in the cemetery-restoration trip, the Kohanim who remained behind spent the afternoon engaged in random acts of kindness. Recognizing that during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah people are especially busy, they went to the parking lot of Amazing Savings to help carry packages, load cars, and return carts.
People greeted the boys’ question of “How can we help?” with disbelief, laughter, and ultimately appreciation. They were impressed with the boys’ maturity, their commitment to helping, and their kind manners. The boys were offered many tips but politely refused them all, making it clear that they were just there to help.
22nd Annual ‘Teshuva-thon.’ Grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and brothers joined the talmidim for an inspiring shiur on teshuvah, given by Rosh Mesivta Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman. Rebbeim were on hand to help out and answer questions as talmidim prepared for this year with their family chavrusos. After approximately 45 minutes of intense preparation, the shiur began.
Rabbi Friedman focused on a halachic and hashkafic analysis of the Rambam’s approach to teshuvah sheleimah and how one “can repair and overcome transgressions.” The Rambam states that during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah it is meritorious to do more mitzvos and give more tzedakah than usual; however, the Torah states that it is impossible to “bribe” Hashem. Both ideas can be reconciled by understanding that an aveirah can only be fixed by doing teshuvah—one cannot remove an aveirah by denying it and attempting to bribe Hashem by doing other mitzvos. However, if one is truly remorseful and does proper teshuvah and follows up their commitment and resolve to be a better Jew by doing more mitzvos: “that is exemplary!” explained Rabbi Friedman.
This shiur also focused on the idea of doing teshuvah not just for particular actions of aveirah but also regarding personality traits such as anger, stinginess, jealousy, and the like.
“Teshuvah is a process that encompasses the entire personality—and brings us closer to Hashem,” shared Rabbi Friedman. The learning experience and the shiur clearly helped set the tone as the talmidim approached Yom Kippur.
Ohel and Rambam’s Early Simchas Beis Hashoevah. On September 16, Jack Benzakein, Michael Benzakein, Moshe Blank, Sam Cohen, Yehuda Moskovits, and Netanel Muskat spent quality time in the sukkah of a local Ohel Bais Ezra for an early afternoon of pre-Sukkos divrei Torah, sukkah decorating, singing, and bonding time with their friends at Ohel.
The sukkah building/decorating project, coordinated by Jennifer Gruenfeld at Ohel and Rambam assistant principal, Hillel Goldman, highlighted the kesher between these two institutions. “Sukkah building and decorating for and with Ohel is an annual tradition,” he explained, “One that our boys look forward to every year in addition to our Ohel/Rambam Chavrusa Program which meets every Wednesday at Rambam and our Ohel/Rambam Night featuring simcha music and dancing.” The Rambam/Ohel connection continues to grow friendships and values.
Rambam Remembers 9/11. With the Rambam shul lights dimmed, and American flags draped across the bookshelves, the tone was set for a meaningful and informative recognition of the significance of the day.
It began with a brief speech by Rambam Mesivta’s principal, Rabbi Yotav Eliach, about the nature of the attacks. Videos about the jihadist extremist ideology were shown, as was a video about the actual attacks.
This year marked a change in Rabbi Eliach’s overall approach to these tragic events. He noted that now, 12 years removed, the oldest of the talmidim at the assembly were six years old at the time of the attacks. In essence, Rabbi Eliach, a recognized Middle East expert, pointed out, “The 9/11 attacks are now almost ancient history to you.” In light of this generational shift, he felt it necessary to create the proper historical context for understanding just who Osama Bin Laden was, what the world was like a dozen years ago, and how this could have happened.
Rambam is proud to have commemorated the attacks every year since they happened, and the commitment to good citizenship and hakaras ha’tov to America were on full display at this memorial service.
Freshman Orientation: Rambam Class of 2017. Rambam’s freshman orientation is not only about giving new students new books and lockers; it is about creating a sense of belonging, comfort, and purpose as talmidim come to what is, in essence, their new home. The Rambam Mesivta class of 2017 was treated to doughnuts and chocolate milk upon arrival. While everyone was eating, the senior advisors in attendance were talking to the freshmen, helping them feel welcome in their new environment.
Following “breakfast,” the students were escorted to the shul where they listened to speeches and received their schedules. Many people spoke and the major theme was that Rambam is like a big family, and that even though the students don’t know each other so well now, they will all become friends.
Following the orientation, Rabbi Ari Boiangiu, freshman Gemara iyun rebbe, and Rabbi Aryeh Young, a new rebbe, escorted the boys to the batting range for some kesher and chevra time. The students were each given a Powerade and treated to mini-golf, arcade tokens, and softball and fastball hitting.
The day concluded with Minchah and the sense that the school really is like no other.
Masmidim Program. During the course of the first week of school, over 80 talmidim helped launch Rambam Mesivta’s Masmidim Program. Talmidim looking for additional learning opportunities spent the evenings and lunch periods partaking in the school’s optional learning program.
The initial event, held on the second night of school, featured an hour of “open learning” in the beis midrash; Rabbi Avi Haar, assistant principal, and Rabbi Yaacov Weisenberg learned with more than 40 talmidim. Following some snacks (gummy worms, assorted chips, and even healthy snacks—there was one bowl of fruit), Carlos and Gabby’s wings, fries, and popcorn chicken arrived. Rabbi Weisenberg then spoke on the topic of “Yom Kippur and You,” which was followed by more learning and Maariv.
Optional lunch learning continued throughout the week, with Rabbi Yossi Ziskind discussing halachah on Monday; Rabbi Boiangiu’s Tuesday Sefer HaChinuch shiur; Rabbi Jonathan Muskat’s parashah shiur on Wednesdays; and Rabbi Haar’s mishnayos shiur rounding out the week on Thursday.
The kickoff week concluded Monday night with more night learning, snacks, Carlos and Gabby’s, and divrei Torah when the beis midrash was once again booming with the sounds of young men eager to grow. Rabbi Aryeh Young, Gemara iyun rebbe, learned with his talmidim, and Rabbi Yitzy Werblowsky, beis midrash and Rambam adult learning rebbe, delivered an informative and interesting shiur/Q&A session on “Sounding Off: A Note on Halachah and Music.”
The Rambam Mesivta Masmidim program highlights the school’s emphasis on learning Torah, fostering a sense of community and chevra, and creating a kesher between the students and rebbeim. May it continue its auspicious beginning! v