A visit to U.S. Military Academy at West Point for the swearing-in ceremony of Rep. Pat Ryan (NY-18) turned into something much greater when Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder, Mayer Tauber and Jacob Eisdorfer had a chance encounter with a Jewish soldier at the famed military school.
While at the ceremony, the Orthodox Jewish participants met with West Point 61st Superintendent Lt. Gen. General Steven Gilland, a three-star general, who invited them to explore the military school’s grounds.
While at the ceremony, the Orthodox Jewish participants met with West Point Commanding Officer General Steven Gilland, a three-star general, who invited them to explore the military school’s grounds.
Essentially its own town with its own government, exploring West Point was an enticing prospect for the Jewish participants, who would otherwise have no opportunity to freely roam West Point’s grounds.
Having previously been made aware of a shul in West Point, Mr. Wieder led the group to the building in which is the shul, but all the doors were locked. Still, the Rockland legislator wouldn’t give up.
“I literally felt like someone or something was pushing me to get into the building,” Wieder told YWN. “I can’t put the feeling into words, but it was there.”
Refusing to accept defeat, Wieder and his crew went to the rear of the building, where they found a door that was open and led into a lunchroom. They began exploring the building a bit, searching for someone. Who? They didn’t quite know.
After trying various doors and rooms, the group of Orthodox Jews suddenly heard a voice emanating from a small library room. Going inside, they found a soldier who was engaged in a conversation on Zoom. Despite being on a call, the soldier warmly welcomed them and offered to have a conversation once he finished his call.
When he got off the call, he introduced himself to Wieder, Tauber, and Eisdorfer, telling them that he was from California and was raised as a Conservative Jew. Though he wasn’t religious, he had fostered an affinity and connection with his Jewish heritage after going on a Birthright trip to Israel.
“I don’t know what compelled me to ask if he puts on tefillin, but I did,” Wieder relates.
The soldier said that he had put on tefillin before, but currently doesn’t, though the concept strongly interested him.
Immediately, the Jews offered to put tefillin on him right then and there, to which he happily obliged. After saying Shema and V’Ahavta together, the soldier asked to record a video of the instructions to put on tefillin so he could use it in the future if he came across another pair.
“Another pair? We can have one for you tomorrow,” Wieder told him.
The soldier, ecstatic over the news, shook hands with his sudden new friends and agreed to accept the tefillin and wear them if they were able to get it to him. After exchanging numbers, they said their goodbyes.
The group of Orthodox Jews then visited the West Point cemetery, where they said a kapitel of Tehillim at several Jewish kevarim, including that of Mickey Marcus, a legend in both American and Israeli military history, and who the Jewish soldier showed them a profile of hanging on the wall in the shul building.
Upon returning to Monsey, Wieder obtained a pair of tefillin from the Chabad of Rockland and picked up various useful items from a local Judaica store, including a tefillin mirror, tefillin bag, and other items. He then texted the soldier saying his tefillin was ready whenever he was.
On Monday, Wieder and the Jewish soldier met at the West Point entrance checkpoint, where the exuberant soldier joyously accepted his new pair of tefillin.
While Wieder and Tauber were driving back to Monsey, they received a video call from the soldier already asking for assistance with getting his tefillin on properly.
“It was such an incredible experience,” Wieder told YWN. “How a visit to West Point for a swearing-in turned into something so beautiful is something I will marvel at for the rest of my life.”
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We met this fine young man on our EL-AL flight to JFK! We connected as the other military family on board. This young man has high aspirations. Aidan, check your linkedin messages!