Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Where are They Now?

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Operation Inspiration

The school year is over and many people have graduated. It may have been elementary school, high school, or college. Maybe you didn’t have an official graduation, but you came back from seminary, you switched Yeshivos, or otherwise moved on to another area of your life.

Though you’ve started a new chapter, that doesn’t mean you close the book on what came before. People look back at the places they’ve been a part of with pride, hopefully, as even R’ Mordecai Gifter zt”l discussed Yeshivas R’ Yitzchak Elchanan, calling it, “my alma mater.” Many people follow the news from their schools, and if they have a sports team, may even root for it many years later.

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One other thing people do is connect with the people with whom they went to school. Their classmates, even if not so similar, shared common experiences and they develop a bond that may remain strong many years later, even if they never speak. I, for example, have followed the career of a boy I was friendly with in sixth and seventh grade. Though I haven’t spoken to him since we were thirteen years old, I take pride in his accomplishments in the medical field, and have reached out a few times, though without results.

Of course, the classmates we went to high school with may have had a greater impact on us, and when a school holds a reunion, one of the big questions we all want to know is, “Where are they now?”

That boy who was something of a rebel, would you be surprised to know that now he is a beloved Mashgiach in a Yeshiva? That girl who always had her nose in a book; I bet you could have predicted her trip to medical school.

The guys who were class clowns, what ever became of them? Or that quiet boy who didn’t seem to fit in? We have a certain innate desire to know the rest of the story. And that’s a wonderful thing. People are important and we should be interested in them. We should not speak ill of them, of course, or say things like, “I knew he was too lazy to ever make a living,” or “I’d have predicted he’d end up in jail,” but respectful admiration is acceptable and appropriate.

I remember when I heard about an old roommate who’d written a Sefer on Yoreh Deah. I was humbled and a bit jealous. Or you follow the lives of the classmates who became Rebbeim, lawyers, or now lease cars. It gives you an insight into humanity when you know the beginning and can have a perspective from later on in the story. It teaches you about people – and it teaches you about yourself.

You see, years after you’ve graduated and moved on to another school, you should be looking back at your younger self and asking, “What ever happened to me? Where am I now?”

Did you achieve the things you hoped to achieve? Did you lead the kind of life you planned to lead? Is it time for a course correction? Maybe I ought to up my game?

R’ Elchonon Wasserman HY”D had a boyhood friend who became a successful attorney. R’ Elchonon visited him many years later, when he was fundraising for his yeshiva. The attorney said to him: “You know, when we were in school, it was apparent that you had a much better head than I did. If you’d used that intellect to go into law, you’d have been even more successful than me.”

R’ Elchonon replied, “Let me ask you a question. Two trains are sitting on the tracks at the station. One is older and has bare wooden benches, while the other is brand new with plush velvet seats and all the amenities. Which train do you take?”

“Why,” exclaimed the wealthy fellow, “of course, you take the new, luxurious one!”

“Actually,” smiled R’ Elchonon, “It depends on which one will take you to your desired destination.”

Not every journey we make will take us where we intended to go. That’s why we need a good map and solid plan from early on.

The Torah tells us that a king had two sifrei Torah. One he carried with him and one he kept in safekeeping back in Yerushalayim. Every so often, he would compare the two to make sure that the Torah he took with him was still valid and matched the one that had not been exposed to the elements.

The lesson for us is that we all should have an image of who we want to be when we grow up, and always refer back to that as we’re doing our growing, essentially, our entire lives, if we’re doing it right. If we’re on course, great. If we grabbed the wrong train, then we need to get off and cross the tracks to the right one.

It’s never too late to become who we were supposed to be become – unless, of course, we stop asking, “Where am I now?”

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