(Courtesy of Carmel Academy) Carmel Academy, a K-8 Jewish day school serving students in Westchester and Connecticut, is thrilled to have honored 14 alumni at its annual Erev Tov Gala on Sunday, April 7.
The theme of the evening was “Celebrating Service,” and each of the alumni honored either serves or has served in the US Armed Forces or Israeli Defense Forces. From combat soldiers to Naval Academy midshipmen, each of the honorees has chosen a life of service to protect their communities and country.
“The number of students choosing military service is high for a young school that has graduated 12 classes and 200 students,” said Head of School Nora Anderson. “Service and giving back to our community are among the strongest values Carmel Academy holds dear, and all of our alumni honorees have taken these values to extraordinary heights; we are thrilled to honor them.”
“By joining the fleet of midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy, I look forward to building on the foundation of service Carmel helped shape in me and to become the best leader I can be in continuing service to my community and country,” said Ryan Grafman (CA ’15), who will be attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis next year.
“I believe it is important for American Jews to give back to our country and to the communities that have supported us, and I am honored every day to be able to do so,” said Jonah Smart (CA ‘12) who is a student at Cornell University where he is a cadet in the Army ROTC.
Noam Sohn (CA ’07) said he knew he would join the IDF after returning from his eighth grade trip to Israel. He served as a lone soldier in the Nachal Infantry Brigade, a unit that operates on a rotational basis on the most volatile Israeli borders. Sohn said, “The most important lesson I learned at Carmel was to live the values I know to be true. Since I wanted to learn more about my homeland, keep Israel safe and become part of its society and culture, it only made sense that I served in the IDF… As anyone who has served in any army, I gained much more than I gave during my service.”
In addition to the 14 alumni begin honored, Carmel Academy also honored parent volunteers Farell and Colin Diamond. From volunteering for Teach For America to serving as a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the IDF, the couple has had a deep and lifelong commitment to Jewish life and public service.
The school’s beloved physical education teacher Philip Goldberg and his wife, Sergeant First Class Yesenia Ochoa, were also honored. Sergeant First Class Ochoa recently returned from a year in Kuwait, when she had to leave behind her husband and two children. The Carmel Academy community rallied behind the family, providing a year’s worth of meals while Ochoa was deployed.
The entire Carmel Academy student body video-chatted with Ochoa while she was in Kuwait and sent her and her fellow troops care packages and cards. When Ochoa returned home, Carmel Academy helped orchestrate a surprise reunion between husband and wife.
“There is a love that we have felt from a family that we weren’t born into—a community that took us in and showed all the Jewish values of care and love for their neighbor,” Goldberg said.