This week began in a solemn mood at Yeshiva of Central Queens, as grades 3-8 attended Yom HaZikaron programs created and presented by Shirley Porad. Students sat silently as they listened to stories about selfless bravery and love for Israel through graphic stories and meaningful videos of members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), soldiers who gave their lives defending the land and people they love. They learned about the bravery of Dan Givon, a young pilot who was shot down during the Six-Day War; Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yoni commanded the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal during Operation Entebbe, part of the strategic attack at Entebbe Airport in Uganda against terrorists who kidnapped and held hostages. He saved their lives but lost his own.

The students then listened to the speech given in Uganda by Bibi Netanyahu on the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe rescue; and about a true neis that occurred when a bus filled with IDF soldiers was blown to bits just seconds after the last soldier exited. Everyone survived including the bus driver and a soldier outside the bus. The program ended with T’hilim for the soldiers, the victims, and the State of Israel. The program reminded us that the almost 24,000 soldiers who lost their lives protecting Israel and her people will not be forgotten.

The memories will last, but the moods changed the next morning as the students gathered on Zoom for a schoolwide Hallel followed by an exciting livestreamed concert with Joey Newcomb and Rabbi Ophie Nat, singer and YCQ rebbe, accompanied by the assistant principal of Judaic studies, Rabbi Moshe Hamel. The day’s events continued in the classrooms with quiz games on topics about Israel; students creating their own Israeli flags out of items they have in their homes; and art students creating their own Kosels out of craft supplies. One family built their own family Kosel on an entire wall.

Every year, the fifth-grade students research an assigned part of the Western Hemisphere, they learn about the government, special social activities that take place, the geography, history, Jewish presence (including first synagogues if there were any), cultural foods, and some fun facts. They then create a poster board and a model with their research and present at the annual Western Hemis‘fair.’ Before schools closed, the students had been working so hard on their projects. They were disappointed that they would not be able to present. Their teachers Mrs. Tali Hoffman and Mrs. Ellen Orlanski did not let the quarantine stop this annual event. The students, parents, and teachers gathered on Zoom for a virtual Western Hemis‘fair.’ The smiles on students’ faces as they proudly presented their research and models of historic landmarks made the extra work all worth it.

To continue celebrating Israel’s birthday, on Wednesday evening, almost 300 gathered for a family Yom HaAtzmaut Israel trivia Game Night, organized and run by Mrs. Liron Friedman. Over 60 questions were asked having to do with all aspects of Israeli life, including history, politics, food, and fun facts. It was a great way to celebrate the birthday of our Home, Eretz Yisrael. Last week, the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) collected short videos of the YCQ staff wishing Israel a happy 72nd birthday and saying a quick hello to their students and coworkers, then put it together into a video that was sent to the entire YCQ family. The video brought chizuk to students, families, and staff during this trying time. Even if we cannot all be together, the faculty and administration encourages students to keep in touch with friends and family, learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The week ended with winners of the Mitzvah Chart contest receiving pizza deliveries for all their continued hard work and positive attitudes. As we continue in our virtual learning environment, specialty classes have been added to the students’ schedules to offer a fuller day of activity and fun in addition to learning, including social classes and resource room to help students struggling with this temporary new learning, to create a positive learning environment until we can return to our Yeshiva.