February 24, 2021, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, USA
Paul Simon is a great song writer, but there is one line that I cannot agree with, at least based on my own personal experience. "When I look back at all the crap I learned in High School, it's a wonder I can think at all".
Well my experience was different. I can honestly say the values I gained in high school have had a major impact on my life. As the years go on I realize this more and more, and become more grateful. In my blogs I have shared many stories of my teachers, my rabbis, my role models. Much of what I teach today in Krav Maga, and how I teach, is a reflection of their methods and values. There is hardly a class without some rabbinical or Biblical insight or reference. This is a credit to my teachers, and to my high school years.
Last year one of our principals, Rabbi Moshe Gottesman of blessed memory, passed away, not only was I honored to attend his funeral in Israel but I was privileged to spend a moment with our head principal Rabbi Meir Fendel, may the living be separated from the dead. It was a wonderful moment for me; as an adult I was able to come full circle, I was able to see my principal, a man I remember speaking to us every day before the afternoon prayer, and now, when he is over 90, I was able to thank him. I was able to thank him for creating our school, HANC, the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, I was able to thank him for the wonderful education they provided. I was able to express my total gratitude and appreciation, for my high school years were anything but "crap".
I was taught values, actually, that is not correct, our teachers led by example, I was shown values. I recall Rabbi Jacob Wehl of blessed memory, in the school office, using the phone to call his mother and let her know that he would be late, I learned the value of respect and honoring one's parents.
I recall Rabbi Eliezer Lane inviting us kids to his home for the Sabbath, I learned the value of hospitality and kindness to newcomers.
I recall Rabbi Shlomo Wahrman of blessed memory telling us about his early years as an immigrant. Coming to the United States from Leipzig, Nazi Germany, he was assisted by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. I learned about gratitude.
I saw my teachers, not only in class, but in recess, in the hallways, during lunch. The Talmud writes in Tractate Sukah 21B, "Even the casual talk of the scholars is worthy of study". This means we learn from their causal chats, for even this contains life wisdom, we learn from their daily behavior, for even this is an expression of Torah and Truth.
What I learned in High School cannot, and should not, be summarized in quotes and history lessons, but in values, guidance and inspiration. I have a deep interest in American history, this dates back to my first year in an American school, 7th grade, where our teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Besser, taught American history. I have read dozens of books on American history, he was my inspiration. Many years later I taught a seminar at a Jewish school in Manhattan, I discovered that he was now the principal of that school. I asked to see him. He was surprised to see me but actually remembered me well. I told him I came to thank him for being my teacher and that he inspired me to a lifetime of interest in American history. Gratitude, Appreciation, Honor thy teacher!
High School, it cannot be summarized in terms of the knowledge attained but it terms of the people we became. I recall the funeral of Rabbi Moshe Gottesman, one of the speakers was Rabbi Sam Rudansky, a current teacher in the school, but I remember him as the older brother of my classmate Charlie Rudansky. I had the good fortune of bumping into Sam at prayer services in New York several times. The student became a teacher, in the very same school in which he was raised. The torch is being passed on. This is our experience.
We learn values, culture, behavioral norms, our high school years were certainly not a waste of time, as some may imagine.
My parents made great efforts and sacrifices to send us to a fine school, I will be forever grateful. I am grateful to the founders of the school, to the teachers, to the secretaries who lovingly took care of us, to the janitors who joked with us, to everyone.
With a high school role model, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, then a 12th grader
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