Ben Porat Yosef (BPY) gave its students an innovative lesson about expressing hakarat hatov (expressing thanks and gratitude) through a patriotic Veterans Day program that paired them with relatives, school employees, and Jewish War Veterans who served in the military and told their stories of sacrifice for their country and freedom.
Students spent time with retired service members including U.S. Army Sgt. Milton Levy, U.S. Army Medical Corps Capt. Ted Tobias, U.S. Army Col. Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, U.S. Air Force Col. Willie Bruenner, U.S. Army Col. Carl A. Singer, Ph.D and U.S. Air Force Pilot George English.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Willie Bruenner beamed as he shared his military experiences with a fifth-grade class, proudly presenting a framed photo he had brought of the EB-66, the aircraft he had navigated during the Vietnam War. Bruenner, also a survivor of the Holocaust, addressed the students, saying “This country saved me, and my family and I thought I could help repay that debt.”
The entire yeshiva came together to pay tribute in a school-wide assembly starting with the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. On the stage stood family representatives and student ambassadors, who all took turns speaking of the momentous role their own family members had played in the United States military. The veterans who had attended were introduced to the crowd from the stage, each one wearing his respective ceremonial uniform which displayed various awards and mementos above the lapels and suit pockets. The students gave them a standing ovation for veterans, both present and not, and then the entire room sang “On Veterans Day” by Karl Hitzeman, thanking the veterans for their service. The veterans and family representatives were so moved by the sweet voices and sincere appreciation that was expressed.
BPY Head of School Rabbi Saul Zucker spoke about his father who had served during World War II and grandfather, and namesake, who served in World War I. “Freedom is not free. It doesn’t just come because we want it,” Zucker told the students.
The ceremony concluded with both veterans and students singing “God Bless America.” Before departing, the third-grade class presented the veterans with hand-written letters, thanking them for their service.
“Veterans Day is an incredible opportunity to teach our students the value of recognizing those who have sacrificed to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today,” said Rabbi Zucker. “We live in the United States enjoying many different levels of comfort and religious freedoms which have only been made continuously possible by those who’ve risked their lives to protect us. Recognizing our veterans and showing our appreciation to them is a critical developmental milestone for students, which trains them not only to be better citizens of our country but better members of society as well.”