Friday, February 25, 2022

Catching Up on Elementary School Mates

There’s a certain rush of serendipitous excitement when a name from your distant past appears in an article you very likely might never have read. But you did.


I’m not into the action hero comic book and film craze. Oh sure, as a youth I liked Superman, Batman, the Flash and Spider-man. But I never obsessed over them. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t complain too loudly when my mother purged my closet of comic books that today would command a handsome return on my dime investments in the storied battles against crime and inner turmoil.


I rarely watch any of the computer enhanced superhero exploits Hollywood has foisted on the viewing public. Nor do I read any of the comics on which the flicks are based. 


That’s why I was particularly surprised to find myself drawn to an article in The Forward centered on a Marvel superhero, Moon Knight, whose backstory includes his being the son of a rabbi (https://forward.com/culture/482847/moon-knight-marc-spector-jewish-rabbi-disney-marvel-oscar-isaac-ethan/).


And then the lightning bolt struck. Inside The Forward’s teaser daily email, the following sentence: “His backstory came courtesy of a Jewish day-school principal-turned-comic book writer, Alan Zelenetz, who put him in two 1984 issues.” 


Alan Zelenetz, the same Alan Zelenetz I shared classrooms with from first through eighth grade at Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn.


It did not surprise me that Alan was a comic book writer, though he did start out professionally as a rabbi and educator (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Zelenetz).


Alan was thin like me. He ate paper. Must have been an early believer in the benefits of a diet rich in fiber. I seem to recall he also ate chalk. Always drawing. Lived in an apartment house on the west side of Ocean Avenue just north of Kings Highway and Avenue P. 


Seeing Alan’s name in the Forward article got me thinking about others in my elementary school class of 31 boys and 13 girls. How many of their names would jump off the page? 


Alan’s cousin, Arnold Saltzman’s would. In our graduation yearbook—yes, I still have a copy of the 1962 booklet—Arnold’s voice was likened to Caruso’s. 


I knew that he had become a cantor serving the Washington, DC, community but was unfamiliar with details of his singing career and a medically forced transition to composer when he lost his voice (https://religionnews.com/2019/03/11/cantor-regains-his-lost-voice-by-composing-jewish-music/).


Dov Zakheim was labeled as the smartest boy in the grade, English department valedictorian. His ambition was to be a doctor of medicine. 


He changed direction, becoming a foreign policy and defense expert, serving Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. Perhaps his most controversial action was being instrumental in killing off Israel’s development of the Lavi jet fighter in favor of Israel’s buying F-16 fighters from America.


Dubbed our wittiest classmate, Joel S. Wiener’s ambition was to become a lawyer. Mission accomplished. Joel’s main claim to fame is as chief executive of the Pinnacle Group, one of New York’s largest real estate companies. That enterprise has enabled him to become a billionaire.


Hands down our most famous classmate is Dennis Prager. A towering figure by virtue of his height even in elementary school, Dennis was rated as our “top banana,” an enduring characterization hard to dispute given his presence on the airwaves and controversial positions on religion, politics and social mores. Needless to say, for those familiar with my leanings, I am not one of his devoted flock. 


I don’t immediately recognize any other names that jump out as public figures, but five, make that six if I’m included, from a class of 44 is impressive. 


For the record, the yearbook recorded my ambition was to be a lawyer or rabbi. I was labeled the class orator.  

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