Most people do not attend reunions for their elementary school. Yet, students of Yeshiva Institute, which is now renamed Yeshiva Primary, eagerly attended a reunion for alumni of the class of 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. The event was coordinated by Rabbi Avner Yusupov, Director of Development at Yeshiva Primary and a graduate of the class of 2000.

It is clear from the heartfelt speeches given at this beautiful event, on Sunday evening, November 6, at Netzach Community Center, that the alumni all view their elementary yeshivah years as much more than just a school experience. They all expressed overflowing gratitude to Rabbi Zalman Deutscher, Dean of Yeshiva Primary,

The alumni pursued professional careers and credit the outstanding secular education they received at Yeshiva Primary to helping them to achieve these goals. Dr. Diana Kopach, who works as a dentist, shared that the science classes in Yeshiva Institute inspired her interest in studying dentistry. Rabbi Avner Yusopov shared that learning Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe were part of the first-class secular education at Yeshiva Institute. These alumni work in many professions, and include lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, business, accounting, and education. It is impressive to see how successful they are in the professional world.

For many, this yeshivah was their first exposure to anything Jewish; and for many, they were first-generation immigrants from the Former Soviet Union learning English. “It was a second home,” many of them shared.

They credited Rabbi Deutscher’s care and dedication for their success. So many of the alumni shared that their children attend yeshivah or that their families and parents became frum because of their experience at Yeshiva Institute.

“He looked at a Jewish soul. He wanted to create more Jewish souls.” (Yelena Ilyach, class of 2001)

“We had something so special. You gave us an environment and a feeling that we were in a place of learning. It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of environment.” (Diana Kopach, who was transferred by Rabbi Deutscher to the BaisYaakov Academy of Queens for sixth grade)

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you. We were religiously educated. You took us in and provided for us. You taught us many valuable lessons we use to this day.” (Yakov Shalomov, class 2001)

“When I look back, your yeshivah was home base. Friends we made we are still in touch with.” … “Our teachers’ goal was to give us a spiritual home. We were in a new country, and you gave us a home. Thank you for providing a home for me and for so many children. You are one of the few people who do things for others 100 percent. You don’t look for honor. We should learn from your example to do everything l’sheim Shamayim.” (Roman Aminov,1998)

“Everyone here is a gem because of Rabbi Deutscher.” (Efraim Yagudayev, class 1998)

Rabbi Avner Yusupov thanked the yeshivah for the outstanding education in secular studies as well as Jewish studies. He pointed out that Rabbi Deutscher hires qualified teachers, and parents demand quality. The tuition is the fraction of other yeshivos. “Rabbi Deutscher instilled Jewish values in us. What I learned in Yeshiva Institute is still with me. The teachers made a connection with us.” He shared how there are bas and bar mitzvahs at the end of the year, and Purim and Chanukah programs, and so much more. The school includes a state-of-the art science lab program and a technology program, as well as an outstanding literacy program under the direction of this writer and Dr. Ann Douglas. Computer science, art, and gym are also offered to the students.

The Principal, Mrs. Judy Klein, helps to create the warm atmosphere in the school, which encourages learning and brings out the highest potential of each student.

Mrs. Klein pointed out that the parents of the alumni didn’t know about Judaism, and they tried to give their children what they didn’t have. She said that she is happy that the alumni are staying connected to each other, and she wished them all continued success with their children.

Then, Dr. Ann Douglas, Assistant Principal of Yeshiva Primary, shared her feelings about the school. It is her 25th year working there, and she said that “Rabbi Deutscher cares, and it’s infectious.” She related how much she enjoys working at Yeshiva Primary and teaching the children there. “Every year I see the world through the fresh eyes of my students.”

Rabbi Bentzion Ederman, former rebbe in Yeshiva Institute, shared, “Torah study makes a person happy.”

Following this, Rabbi Victor Kamara, former senior boys’ rebbe, said, “You all kept your connection with Rabbi Deutscher and Yeshiva Institute. I am so proud seeing all of you. You should be matzliach in all you do.”

Rabbi Deutscher shared that you do what you can, and Hashem will help. He said that when he looked around at all the alumni and when he walks on Main Street, he never dreamed we could do this. There were three generations under Communism that forbade religious practices. He said the alumni in the room are heroes.

Everyone left touched and inspired by this special program.

By Susie Garber