Discovering the Pintele Yid at West Point
By M. C. Millman
Although the original purpose of the day was attending the inauguration of Congressman Pat Ryan at his historic inauguration as the first West Point graduate to represent West Point as an elected congressman, the day turned into something with much more nitchius when two Rocklanders and a Boro Park resident decided to explore the grounds after the event.
Attendees had received an open invitation from Major General Steve Gilland, West Point's 61st Superintendent, to explore the campus, and some did just that.
"I knew there was a shul on the grounds at West Point," Legislator Aron Wieder shares exclusively with Rockland Daily. "And I went to find it together with Meyer Tauber from Metrex Companies and Jacob Eisdorfer, a Boro Park community activist."
When the threesome finally located the shul, it appeared to be closed up and dark.
"We tried all the doors,' Weider says. "They were all closed until we got to the fifth door in the back. It was a big facility. We saw the kitchen, the lunchroom, the lounge. It was all empty until we heard a voice which we were finally able to locate coming from the library, where we saw a soldier on a Zoom call. He told us if we could wait another twenty minutes, he would talk to us."
Twenty minutes later, the soldier was showing his three guests around the shul, including the Sefer Torah on display that had been rescued from the Natzis. He also talked about himself. He had a frum grandfather but hasn't grown up religious, although he recently had connected to Yiddishkeith through birthright.
"I asked him if he wanted to put on tefillin," said Wieder. "I don't know why I asked him that, just like I don't know how we ended up being there with him after finding all those doors locked and the shul dark, but I asked him."
The cadet responded that he had actually been looking into it.
"If I buy you a pair of tefillin, will you put it on every day?" Wieder asked spontaneously.
After giving it some thought, the West Point cadet agreed to commit, and they shook on it.
"And would you want to put on tefillin today?" Wieder asked, remembering he 'happened' to have a pair of tefillin in the car.
"Absolutely!" was the reply.
The three then helped the cadet put on tefillin which he hadn't done since his bar mitzvah.
"I went to an inauguration of my good friend, Congressman Pat Ryan, but ended up also doing a bar mitzvah," says Eisdorfer. "It was very moving to be present and part of the group assisting a service member connect to Hashem and Yiddishkeit, and to see his joy putting on tefillin."
The cadet said shema flawlessly on his own, and then when he was done, he asked to do it all over again. This time it was done while videoing the steps on his phone so he would be able to do it again on his own when the legislator returned with his new tefillin.
"It was an amazing experience," says Tauber, "to meet another Jew and see all over again that all Jews share something in common. He is from Los Angeles, and I was born and raised in Williamsburg and live in Rockland. Yet, no matter the background, as long as there is dialogue and communication, we see that we are both one and the same. We all enjoyed the conversation and the spirituality to the point that he actually put on tefillin."
Rabbi Schneur Zalman from Chabad of Nanuet participated in the extraordinary mitzvah as well, giving a discounted rate for the new tefillin that he had on hand. The tefillin will be hand delivered tomorrow to West Point by Legislator Wieder, who, together with Tauber and Eisdorfer, rather than begin all wrapped up in the politics of the moment, chose to go out in search of the pintele Yid and strike the spark that hopefully will continue to burn for a lifetime.