Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Elementary Ties

Many people use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites to keep abreast of, or catch up with, relatives, friends, acquaintances or business associates. I mostly rely on the old fashioned conveyers of information: traditional media including newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

Take, for example, a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in the NY Times last Thursday. Entitled “Waiting for Mitt the Moderate,” the Op-Ed piece listed several of Romney’s foreign affairs advisors including Dov Zakheim. Some might recognize that name as a former Defense Department official in recent Republican administrations, most prominently identified as the analyst who shot down support for Israel’s internal development of the Lavi jet fighter in the late 1980s.

I know Dov as a masterful Talmudic scholar from our elementary school days at Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn (modesty does not keep me from saying I was no slouch either in the ways of our learned sages). He delivered the English valedictory address at our graduation ceremony in 1962, along with being the co-winner of a Hebrew Department scholarship.

Lest you think Zakheim was a unique performer, our class of 31 boys and 13 girls (yes, this was a co-ed, Orthodox Hebrew school—my, how times have changed!) had several notable achievers.

One of our more interesting classmates was Alan Zelenetz. He was a good graphic artist. To amuse us, he would eat chalk and paper. Perhaps that was the source of his creativity juices. After becoming a rabbi and a junior high school principal at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, Alan became a film producer and comic book writer. He co-created the Alien Legion series for the Marvel Comics book imprint Epic Comics. He also co-founded Ovie Entertainment, an independent film production company.

Alan’s cousin, Arnold Saltzman, is a rabbi as well but is probably more well known as a cantor, composer and recording artist. At Rambam, Arnold’s voice was head and shoulders better than any other. Indeed, he was a child singer with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Dennis Prager stood taller than anyone in our class. Dennis and I continued our association through high school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush and Brooklyn College. While the rest of his high school mates were learning compulsory French, Dennis quietly taught himself Russian. He was, you might say, a gifted student. It was in high school that Dennis met future rabbi Joseph Telushkin, his co-author of several books on Judaism (I knew Joe before Flatbush—we bunked together in Camp Massad Aleph for four or five years in the late 1950’s). Today Prager is a well-known conservative columnist and radio talk show host.

Michael Shmidman is a rabbi, too (is there a pattern here?). He's now the dean of Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies. I don't know how tall he is today, but as a youngster he was short. Still, when it came time to pick our school basketball team, the coach chose him over me. I exacted some measure of unintended revenge the following spring during a class outing softball game. Michael was pitching for his team. I batted a ball right into his stomach, hard enough to double him over and end the game.

Yeshiva Rambam closed the doors to its elementary school in 2005 but it's nice to know my classmates still can make the news. Of course, they don't always do so in a positive light. One of them, who shall remain anonymous, is a major New York City landlord not known for the beneficent treatment of his tenants.

By the way, in case you’re wondering why I have not included any updates on the girls in my class, it’s not because they have not done anything noteworthy. But under their maiden names their accomplishments did not show up in any of the social media I consulted.