For students at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, connections to the State of Israel run so deep that more than 30 graduates of the Edison school have chosen to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Those connections were evidenced at RPRY’s annual dinner April 18, where architectural plans were unveiled for a Wall of Honor inscribed with the names of the IDF grads to be erected at the school. Videotapes were shown from the IDF’s chief rabbi and Jewish Agency for Israel chair Natan Sharansky, who thanked RPRY and its principal, Shraga Gross. A letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was read in which he thanked the school for “instilling a strong sense of Jewish identity in your pupils and inculcating them with a deep devotion to Israel.”
In the video, played by Gross for NJJN, Sharansky recalled a 2004 incident in which he was hit in the face by a pie while speaking at Rutgers University, and Gross lent him his suit jacket. “What you have given to your children, the people of Israel, and me is more than a jacket,” he said; “it is a deep connection to our people and our identity.”
Gross told NJJN, “All our former students who are serving in the IDF are…always in our hearts and minds and in our prayers. When you plant the seeds of love for our homeland and they are nurtured, you see the results.”
Two days later, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, hundreds of enthusiastic students with banners and Israeli flags sang songs as they marched through the streets around the school in celebration.
Later the celebration continued in the schoolyard with dancing and singing as RPRY said its goodbye to one of those IDF vets, Avi Sholom, 21, of Edison, who was officially making aliya on April 27.
Inside students paid a visit to the “Beit Hamikdash,” the Holy Temple, where they got to dress up as high priest, made ancient coins, and lit a menora.
“I am celebrating because we are Jewish, we have our freedom, and so we have our own country,” said third-grader Seela Langer of Highland Park.
In Gross’ office, Sholom said he became a member of the IDF tank corps in March 2009.
The son of Greg and Sari Sholom, he is a graduate of RPRY and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston and studied at Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem.
“For 2,000 years the Jewish people has been persecuted,” Sholom said, explaining his reason for making aliya. “Here we have a homeland, a place where we can be together…where we can develop our own culture, live by our own moral standards.”
Sholom’s years at RPRY strengthened his belief “that Israel was a special place.” He recalled the cake that was part of the Yom Ha’azmaut celebration in nursery school to marching with his eighth grade class at the Israel Day Parade in New York. After the Intifada in 2001 he went to Washington to protest in support of Israel.
Although considered a hayal boded, a lone soldier with no family in Israel, Sholom said, Israel is a place where he never feels alone. “I can call people up 10 minutes before Shabbos and have a place to eat a meal,” he said.
Another former RPRY student and IDF vet at the dinner, Isaac Shmulewitz, 19, of East Brunswick, said in a phone interview he volunteered and was assigned to the infantry because “I believed in Israel as a Jewish country and believed it was the right thing to do.”
Shmulewitz — the son of Aaron and Cheryl Shmulewitz and a graduate of RPRY and the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn — said he saw no direct action “but Gaza is never really quiet.”
Despite his service having strengthened his Zionism, Shmulewitz said, he has no foreseeable plans to make aliya and is now studying history at Queens College.