By Rachel Allen and Aviva Prizont, Special to JTNews
A tall man in a fancy blue uniform fiddled around with his laptop at the front of the classroom, trying to open his
presentation. He turned to his audience, a group of girls waiting at their desks, and imparted his first words of wisdom: “Death by PowerPoint is not a fun way to go.” And coming from a man who knows more ways to go than your average guy, we thought this was pretty good advice.
Captain Yoni Goldstein of the United States Air Force visited Derech Emunah girls’ high school in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle to cap off a humanities unit on 9/11 and current events this past fall. As empathy was a running theme throughout the course, his presence in the classroom put a real face on actual events.
Captain Goldstein flies a plane that transports goods and people into military zones. He was raised in Dallas, Texas, and began his military training and became a second lieutenant while he was still in college. After graduation he got married and was sent to a base located in the small town of Enid, Okla. (“Where there are more cows than people”) along with his wife, Michelle. His eldest daughter was born there, where they lived in a house with the only kosher kitchen in a 90-mile radius.
Captain Goldstein explained why he joined the Air Force. First, he said, it had been his dream since he was 2 years old to be in the Army and fly a plane. His face darkened as he recounted his memory of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. He was in 10th grade, davening Shacharit, when the rabbi ran into the room and announced that one of the Twin Towers had been hit. Someone found a TV and plugged it in, and on it they watched the second tower go down. He had always been raised patriotic, but it was on that day that he took it upon himself to actively pursue a career in the military.
“I, along with many other Americans, felt our country needed help,” Goldstein told us. He chose the Air Force because of his love of aviation combined with the relative ease in accommodating a religious lifestyle.
He enthusiastically proceeded to describe some of his experiences as an Orthodox Jewish Air Force pilot, such as lighting a single Hanukkah candle in Kyrgyzstan and in Afghanistan, hosting kosher falafel nights for his crew, and how
MyZmanim.com (an app that informs people of the right times to pray) became his “best friend” when it came to observing Shabbat and Yom Tov while crossing time zones.
After he had finished speaking, Derech Emunah students were given the opportunity to ask him questions, which he was happy to answer. He informed us that something he had gained from the military was real respect for leadership, and he named three things a leader requires: Integrity, service before self, and excellence. And when he was asked what his favorite part of his job was, he answered that it was returning soldiers safely to their families.
“But the other part of that,” he noted sadly, is when they don’t return safe. “If I didn’t love what I do, I don’t think that I could [do it],” he concluded.