May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Shabbat Valedictorian: Don Greenberg’s Kiddush Hashem at Binghamton

When Jewish high school juniors start compiling their college lists, one of the schools that often makes an appearance is Binghamton University. Boasting a population that many say is “30 percent Jewish” (high by college standards), it is considered to be a solid choice for students from public schools, Jewish day schools and yeshivas alike. After lengthy research, followed by college fairs and visits, the school often remains on their lists and many ultimately apply to Binghamton in the fall of their senior year. With a Chabad that has been active since the 80s and a newer, yet just as active, Hillel, there is a place for everyone to feel comfortable, and yeshiva students and others are attending in ever-increasing numbers as college costs continue to rise.

Don Greenberg, Teaneck resident and alumnus of SAR High School in Riverdale, now also a proud alum of Binghamton University, is one of those students. He made headlines last week as a modern “Sandy Koufax,” who was thrilled and proud to have been selected as a speaker at his Watson School of Engineering graduation this past Saturday, but unable to use the microphone at the ceremony because of the laws of Shabbat. The Shabbat workaround, brainchild of Ryan Yarosh, Director of Media and Publications at Binghamton, was to have Greenberg pre-record his speech, which was then shown on jumbo screens onstage on his graduation day, with him standing quietly on the stage, watching along with his fellow graduates, university faculty, family and friends. The only addition to the speech he had originally intended to give was a brief prologue which explained the reason for this unusual manner of delivery.

“His speech seemed like a regular…commencement speech that happened to begin with a description of his Shabbat observance requirements, and ended with ‘Shabbat Shalom,’” said Joseph Greenberg, Don’s father.

According to attendees at the commencement ceremony, Greenberg’s speech was well received. People appeared to understand the reasons behind the pre-recorded address, and were able to focus on his graduation message. For Orthodox families, it will forever be a highlight of the 2015 graduation, that a brave young man chose to put his Judaism first, and an entire University accepted and welcomed it.

According to Joseph Greenberg, “What was particularly interesting is that in the end, since the school (as do many other venues) projects the proceedings onto large screens beside the dais, unless you were sitting very close to the stage, it is unlikely you would even have known that Don was not actually speaking live. For us, who knew he wasn’t actually speaking live, it was funny to watch him stand up at the podium and react to his own words. But also, we hadn’t yet seen or heard his message, so that was soon forgotten, as we listened to the wisdom that he had developed over four years of university.”

Harris Sabbagh, Don’s roommate at Binghamton, added, “As Donny’s college roommate and also a former yeshiva student, I wasn’t surprised by Donny’s reaction as he is an Orthodox Jew, [nor] by Binghamton University’s typical accommodations towards its Jewish students. This is just one of the many examples of Donny’s commitment towards his religious observance, as well as his outstanding academic achievements and personal accomplishments and character. We have been impressed by Donny in the past, and expect to be impressed again in the future.”

Greenberg brought pride to his family, synagogue, yeshiva and the entire Jewish community by performing this kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name), and the Jewish world has taken notice. Not just mainstream media, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media were buzzing with news of his actions, with “likes,” thumbs up, and comments like “awesome!” and “unbelievable!” common themes.

Shari Tellerman Bloomberg, a member of the Binghamton University class of 1990, commented, “Cultural sensitivity does not exist in a vacuum. Even as a student there 20-plus years ago, I learned more about respect and tolerance by way of example than in my classes. Sensitivity to Jewish religious practice is largely due to the dedication of Chabad and other Jewish campus entities who teach the campus community to respect and appreciate Judaism.”

Joseph Greenberg agreed. “I can’t leave out the incredible community that the Slonim family has built at Binghamton. This multi-generational Chabad family of shluchim has been serving the Binghamton community for over 30 years.”

He continued, “When [Don] was asked to be commencement speaker, he quickly discovered it was on a Shabbat. I have to say that one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a parent is seeing the email he sent to a rabbi he trusted (Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, the principal of SAR High School), letting him know about this honor, and asking if there is a way he could accept it within the boundaries of halacha. The stories of kids going off to college and jettisoning their observant practices (either immediately or gradually) are frequently heard; knowing that Don worked hard enough to be recognized and cared enough about his mesorah was really a tremendous acknowledgement to my wife and me that we had done at least something ‘right,8’ in helping to mold successful children.”

Don Greenberg, ever the humble and modest graduate, despite his 3.93 GPA and triple majors in Computer Science at Binghamton’s Watson School of Engineering, Finance at its School of Management and Math at its Liberal Arts College, had this to say, “Ninety percent of the credit for the kiddush Hashem should go to my parents and grandparents, and the rest to my schools and teachers.”

For rising high school juniors, this is all wonderful news. It takes a school already considered a good choice for Jewish students, and raises it to a higher level. From providing the necessary amenities such as Chabad, Hillel, Birthright trips, kosher dining and more, it has now moved into an even stronger Jewish arena. Making accommodations to allow a religious student to maintain his Jewish practices while remaining an integral part of the school community is the embodiment of what many Jewish high school students and their families are seeking. It is likely that Greenberg’s actions will reverberate for years, making Binghamton University an even stronger option for Jewish students going forward.

By Jill Kirsch

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles