I am a proud graduate of the YCQ (Yeshiva of Central Queens) class of 1975. While my class was the first one to graduate from the “new” building (yes, I am referring to the existing structure, which for us was brand new!) my first 7 years; grades 1-7 were spent in Jamaica, Queens where YCQ stood for many years. Most of my memories are from those buildings – there were two – and I say “Baruch Hashem” for the wonderful, Torah and Zionist education that I received there. I have a lot of memories from those years, including practicing day after day for the proper way to march in the Salute to Israel Parade on 5th Avenue. YCQ took that parade very seriously but we did much more than march. Every class made things for the big float which YCQ proudly displayed. To us, this was not just a parade. It was our way of shouting our love and support for the State of Israel in those difficult days which sandwiched the 6 Day and Yom Kippur wars. However, as wonderful as the preparations were for the parade, there was a different lesson that still remains with me from those “golden oldie” days. It was in 1971 and the lesson was about Tu B’Shvat.
I was in 4th grade and was the star in a play about life in Israel. The entire play centered around the wonderful work being done by the pioneers of the land. Although we were in Queens, some 6,000 miles away from Israel, my teachers wrote a play that focused on building the Promised Land. As you know, Tu B’Shvat falls during the freezing cold month of January but the play had us all wearing shorts and those famous kibbutznik’ hats (the kova-tembel) as we worked the land and tilled the soil. Yes, Tu B’Shvat was very real for us in those days and YCQ made sure to instill in us the love of the land. The entire school was invited to attend our play and it was to be my shining moment in my very short acting career. Unfortunately, the day before the big play, I came down with the flu and was running a high fever. My throat was all red and my voice sounded like I swallowed a frog. I stayed home from school that day and was sick in bed. In the afternoon, my mother received a call from the principal, Mrs Schwartz, asking how I was and informing us that the play would be cancelled due to my illness. It was then and there that I learned a powerful lesson. My mother said, “Do not cancel the play – my son will be there!” She then turned to me and said, “The school is counting on you and we will not let them down. This play is about building the land of Israel and I assure you that in Israel today there are many pioneers working the ground, even though they don’t feel well. You are like a soldier in the Israeli army! Soldiers fight even if they are sick!” I looked at my mother with my dripping eyes and swollen glands and sat up in bed, straight as a stick. “I will be there, Mommy. I am like a soldier!”
The next day, Hashem decided to really test my 9 year old courage. He dropped the temperatures to minus something and sent strong winds to hit me in all directions. My parents did not own a car, so my mother dressed me like an Eskimo and wrapped me in a blanket. We then walked to the bus and bravely waited for the B-53 to arrive. We lived in Middle Village and the bus was our only method of transportation. As a matter of fact, I had been taking the public bus myself since 3rd grade! Of course, it took a long time for the bus to come but every time my mother looked at me she kept saying, “You are a soldier in the Israeli army. You are a pioneer building the land. Be strong and tough!” Even though I was shivering and had aching bones, I stood strong and proud waiting for our tank, I mean – bus to pick us up. Finally, the bus came and my mother and I rode all the way to Jamaica. When we came to the school, my friends were excited to see me and I said, “Let’s go – we have to put on this play about building Israel!” I threw off the blanket and 16 layers of clothing (or something like that) and switched to my shorts and kova-tembel. Baruch Hashem, the play was a great success!
Immediately after the play, I got redressed in the 16 layers and started leaving the building with my mother, when all-of-a-sudden I saw Mrs Schwartz running towards me with the famous Tu B’Shvat bag of dried fruits. As she handed me those fruits – including the rock hard “buckser” that broke all your teeth – she told me how proud she was of me. I will never forget her smile. She sincerely appreciated what my mother and I did and she showed it with a “thank you” that no nine-year-old will ever forget.
I learned a lot that day. I learned how powerful the human mind is and how rock-solid determination beats the flu… hands down! I learned how strong my mother was and how she felt that this seemingly insignificant play in YCQ was like fighting the Egyptian army on the Suez Canal. I learned how mean and old principals were not really mean and old at all – but were actually caring, wonderful people who simply wanted the best for their students. And most of all, I learned how dedicated my school was to the young and growing State of Israel.
Today, most schools skip things like Tu B’Shvat, Yom Ha’Zikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim but I am proud to say that these were all very important dates on our school calendar. I give a lot of credit to the education I received at YCQ for being one of the main reasons why I have lived in Israel for the past 24 years. As you know, the Jewish community of Middle Village, where I was born and raised (until my bar-mitzvah), is completely gone but YCQ is alive and well and I wish them all the blessings in the world to keep the love of Torah and Eretz Yisrael burning in the hearts and souls of their students. Thank you, YCQ.