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On September 11, 2016 the world observed the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.

September 11th changed the course of history. It is a day punctuated with memories of terrorism, death, fire, darkness and pain. On that fateful day, many lives were cut short. 9/11 was also a day that the world witnessed an incredible display of heroism, love and ahavas Yisroel. On 9/11 Shlomo Zakheim, beloved husband of Dr. Faye Zakheim, rushed to the Twin Towers as a first responder, along with many other Hatzalah members. His primary goal was to evacuate, rescue and save as many people as possible. His engine, his driving force, was chesed and ahavas Yisroel.

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On Rosh Hashanah, September 4, 2013 as the Jewish world was preparing for a new year, Shlomo’s lofty neshama departed this finite world.

On a beautiful Shabbos Nachamu weekend, I, along with a busload of students from the Brooklyn Jewish Xperience (BJX), spent an unforgettable Shabbos upstate in Woodridge, New York at the Zakheim home. The rabbis planned a spectacular itinerary with Dr. Zakheim. We were treated like royalty from the moment we arrived on Friday until the time we departed on Sunday. Dr. Faye, Reb Azi and Reb Moshe Zakheim hosted our group of students and young professionals in a beautiful home designed by Shlomo Zakheim from his hospital bed for the specific purpose of welcoming guests for Shabbat and holidays. Both Rabbi Yitzchok and Rabbi Moshe Fingerer presented Dr. Zakheim with a beautiful framed birchat ha’bayit prayer as a token of appreciation from the BJX community for her incredible devotion, meticulous care and deep love.

BJX students and young professionals come from all different religious and geographical backgrounds. Many of us, like myself, did not grow up religious. BJX is an extremely warm, welcoming organization and shul where we feel comfortable and at home, even though many of us were raised unobservant.

Dr. Faye Zakheim is the “mother” of BJX and a critical part of creating its warm and inspiring atmosphere. Most Shabbat evenings, Dr. Faye hosts the BJX Shabbaton for college students and young professionals. For many of us, it is the highlight of our week as we reconnect with our “family,” hear inspiring divrei Torah and catch up about our week.

As a professor of Social Work, Dr. Zakheim is an expert in building community and bringing out the best in people. Each week she has a different thought-provoking question to pose to everyone around the Shabbat table. Each person takes turns introducing him or herself, receiving a warm welcome from the crowd, and answering the question of the week. It is an opportunity to share our thoughts on current events, life situations and Torah in an open, friendly environment. Many uplifting thoughts are exchanged around her upstate Shabbat table. For example, Yelena shared how BJX had sent her and her husband Alex to Israel to study after their wedding. She shared inspiring tidbits of her growth and spoke of her spiritual experiences. Yelena had to return to her job as a nurse; her husband, Alex however stayed an extra week to continue learning in yeshiva! Mike, a pre-med college student, spoke about how he overcame the challenge of taking time off from his research work to learn Torah at Sinai Retreats. Many of those present took the opportunity to express their hakarat hatov to the rabbis and Dr. Faye for infusing them with an excitement and love for Shabbat and for being made to “feel” part of the BJX family.

Kabbalat Shabbat services that weekend were held in the beautiful shul at the Goldenberg home. Dr. Faye said the bracha over the Shabbat candles with many of the young women. Cantor Joe Kessner walked a distance to join. He led the beautiful Carlebach services with singing and dancing.

For many of us, it was our first opportunity to see a vibrant Jewish community upstate. Shabbat day we joined services at the historical Woodridge synagogue. The shul is over 100 years old with highly unusual, beautiful and detailed paintings on the walls. The sanctuary was standing room only.

Over Shabbat we had the opportunity to hear from two accomplished members of the community whose lives were deeply influenced by Shlomo Zakheim. First, Dr. Knoll, a renowned urologist, spoke about the various aspects of his career as they related to halacha. A mohel, Dr. Knoll told stories about the many brisim he performed and how Shlomo helped sponsor many brisim for unaffiliated Jews. Together they traveled around the world to help Jews fulfill this precious mitzvah – even traveling to Cuba to covertly perform brisim.

Next, we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Michael Vatch, who spoke about his successful career in ambulance and healthcare administration. Michael focused on his close personal and professional relationship with Shlomo Zakheim. Shlomo became an extremely close friend and personal mentor to Michael. He encouraged Michael to enter the ambulance and healthcare businesses and together they engaged in innumerable chesed projects around the world. Michael said that the most important lessons he learned from Shlomo were to learn Torah every day and to constantly do acts of chesed, especially acts no one knows about. Most of Shlomo’s charitable acts were conditioned on his anonymity.

By inviting the BJX community to experience a meaningful and inspiring Shabbat in their home, Shlomo’s legacy of Torah and chesed continued throughout the shabbaton. On Shabbos Nachamu we traveled upstate and embarked on a journey with our “family.”

Let us learn from Shlomo’s life and increase our Torah learning and ahavas Yisroel. We hope that all of the mitzvos we do bring both elevation to the neshama of Shlomo Eliezer ben HaRav Yaakov zt”l, and consolation to his precious family.

Since that memorable Shabbat upstate, I often reflect on the experience. Clearly, Shlomo’s legacy of ahavas Yisroel didn’t end on 9/11 or on Rosh Hashanah. To accommodate an overflow crowd on Yomin Noraim, the BJX Beis Medrash moved to the Agudah for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The packed and inspiring davening was dedicated in Shlomo’s memory.

Shlomo’s preferred way of doing good was under the cover of anonymity. We saw at Dr. Faye’s Shabbat table that Shlomo, although concealed in Shamayim, continues to give of himself. His powerful legacy endures through the graciousness of his wife, Dr. Faye, and his beloved children. May his memory serve as a blessing.

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