Cedarhurst resident Mark Getman, a captain in the New York State Guard, an ordained rabbi and an army communications specialist, marched into Brandeis Hebrew Academy and presented a Veterans Day program to the students of the school on Frost Lane in Lawrence on Nov. 10.
Veterans Day is Nov. 11, but was observed on the Friday, meant a bit more this year after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the continuing conflict in the Middle East.
“What we want the kids to get out of it is to gain a respect for our veterans, to honor and respect the people who serve our country every day,” said Audrey Bieber, Brandeis’s literacy coordinator who organized the program. “We’re mindful and respectful to those soldiers in Israel, the IDF, and we have to realize where we are and we recognize that in America that our soldiers are risking their lives every day for our safety as well.”
Beginning in one half of the gymnasium, the younger students of a school that goes from kindergarten to eighth grade, discussed Israel’s history and Shabbat with Brandeis Rabbi Reuven Khaskin then heard from Getman who explained what he does.
Then the kids peppered Getman with questions such “What does an army base look like?”; “Do you have days off?”; “Have you ever been to war?” and “It is hard to be Jewish in the army?” which he answered with the aplomb of a person who handles media inquires professionally.
Getman then moved to the gym’s other side where the older students fifth through eighth grade awaited a presentation that included him presenting a more in-depth biography and examples of answering the call to duty such as being assigned to Farmingdale then Howard Beach post-Hurricane Sandy and during the Covid pandemic.
Joined the National Guard 2006, as an enlisted specialist, who became a commissioned officer, — a second lieutenant — and then several years later a rabbi and an Army chaplain.
The students also asked questions including what scared him.
“Live grenades are scary,” he said, noting that during training, “you have to pull the pin, through the grenade then duck,” noting that some people had the tendency to jump up and look and someone would pull then down. “A bayonet on the end of gun, it kicked in and made it real,” Getman added.
As a reminder to what Brandeis was commemorating by having Getman visit, Head of School Raz Levin added another dose of reality.
“The army is a lifestyle that you serve to protect the country not only during wartime,” he said. “The army is something that in the United States you volunteer to do, Israel you are forced to do and it’s something that you do with your heart. You need to sacrifice your personal life for the national one.”
Eighth-graders Charlotte Isler and Avishai Greenberg appreciated listening to Getman and what his service stands for.
Isler said she was inspired by his military journey and aims to give back to her community in some manner in the future.
“It’s really bad what is happening in Israel but listening to him made it sort of like safe, like a safe surrounding that it’ll be OK and that there are people like him who are fighting for our country,” she said.
Greenberg said he was “fascinated” to hear the stories from a person who helps protect the country.
“It’s very important to say thank you to all the soldiers that fight for our country, but there is a cloud that also shadows over all of us about what’s happening in Israel because I have family there,” Greenberg said. “My grandma can hear the missiles. It’s also scary. Maybe we can say that seeing one of the veterans that may not fight for Israel, but for America, makes it so much more meaningful.”
All the students joined together in serenading Getman with three patriotic songs, “This Land is Your Land,” “America the Beautiful” and the “Star Spangled Banner,” and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It’s very important for us to do this because we are partners with Israel, we stand by Israel,” Bieber said.