Vets, students meet at Moriah
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Vets, students meet at Moriah

It all began when parents Gila Comet and Debra Prince introduced her to two local veterans, said Dr. Eva Lazar-Sultanik, assistant principal of student life at Englewood’s Moriah School.

Dr. Lazar-Sultanik met with the two men – Daniel Creighton and Dionisio Cucuta, both football coaches from the town’s recreation department – and arranged for them to participate in a Veterans Day program at the school.

The day exceeded her expectations.

“It was very well received,” Dr. Lazar-Sultanik said of the November 11 program. “We piloted it in four classes and in our early childhood program.” Each of the participating classes – including students in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth grade – had assemblies “in which they had the opportunity to learn from the vets. The highlight of the program was the student-led flag folding ceremony.”

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Youngsters demonstrate the proper way to fold the American flag.

If the students were moved by the program, so too were the vets who met with them.

Mr. Cucuta said he spoke with the youngsters about the responsibilities of each branch of the military and what he learned as a Marine about “discipline, respect for others, moral obligation, and defending the rights of humanity.”

The students “were all involved [and made] eye contact, listening with interest,” he said of the pre-K through eighth graders who listened to him.

“They were an amazing group.”

“I felt great,” he added, noting that he derived particular pleasure from the students who participated in the flag-folding ceremony. “They were persistent in folding it properly.”

He also was moved by the pre-K students who called the veterans their “superheroes.”

“The vets spoke a lot about the importance of being part of a team and the relationships they built as part of a team,” Dr. Lazar-Sultanik said. “How it forced them to grow up and be responsible. They have tremendous pride” in that.

In addition, she said, “We shared with them the mi sheberach we recite for the protection of American soldiers. They were touched by knowing that we have that as part of our prayer service.”

Dr. Lazar-Sultanik said that the week before the program, 12 students were selected from each of the participating grades to work with the veterans, learning how to fold a flag properly, according to military procedure.

“Those participating in the flag-folding felt special about being chosen,” she said, noting that after conducting the ceremony in front of fellow students, folders presented the flags to their teachers, who placed them in special cases in each classroom. “The flags commemorate this special occasion and our relationship with the veterans,” she said.

She added that for her, one of the highlights of the program was “watching students feel successful in flag folding, [showing] a tremendous sense of pride and acknowledging the fact that we are grateful as Jewish Americans to be part of a country that protects us and takes care of us.”

Dr. Lazar-Sultanik said that another component of the program involved the nursery and pre-K classes, whose teachers fashioned an American flag out of the children’s handprints to honor “their neighborhood superheroes. Each one was decorated with red, white, and blue handprints,” she said, adding that one class made a card for the veterans, and later presented it to them along with the flag.

“The vets were touched by that,” she said.

Dr. Lazar-Sultanik said that while the program was specifically for Veterans Day, “it’s also about connecting with community members and having the children start learning about people in the neighborhood, and their contributions.” Such programs help build bridges, she said, because they also introduce community members to the students at the school.

“It’s important to us as a school to place an emphasis not only on being members of the Jewish community but recognizing that we’re part of the community at large,” she added. “Our goal is to develop mensches, but also kids committed to learning and leadership. We emphasize civic leadership programming to prepare our students to be leaders of the Jewish community and have the skills to negotiate a global and diverse workforce. We are invested in our students being tomorrow’s leaders.”

Dr. Lazar-Sultanik noted that in planning this program, “we were emphasizing the role we play as contributing members of American society, and being proud of it. It’s important for the students to see the merger between Jewish identity and American citizenship.”

“I really enjoyed participating in the Veterans Day program,” said Jacob Nayowitz, an eighth-grader at the school, who lives in Teaneck.

“My family has several veterans and it was interesting for me to be able to talk to other vets about their experiences and the similarities,” he added. “It was also great to meet with other people from the community. I hope we do more programs like this.”

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