Room 15 is where I met three of my best friends for life. When we moved to Israel in early 2010, we were friends, best friends perhaps, but nothing close to the relationship we share today. It is impossible to describe what living with three guys, having little work and lots of play, and experiencing Israel and its history does to somebody. We became brothers. They helped me grow, they helped me learn, they changed my life.
I have been at school with Aaron since Kindergarten, we’ve been close friends for as long as I can remember. But I could never have prepared for living in Friedman dorm at Alexander Muss High School in Israel with him. He taught me how to enjoy life for its simpler joys: dancing to corny music, taking pride in being frugal (especially when we could call it “scumming”), and having an open heart to the world without filter. Aaron became and will forever stay, the epitome of self-confidence. He is overachieving, under recognized, and forever content. When we played Water Polo together in high school, the offense wasn’t run through him, quite on the contrary: the offense was run through him being a decoy. He still scored. He still got back on defense.He still was the one player I knew I could lean on when I couldn’t do my part. He was more valuable to the team than everybody else combined. He was hardworking, competitive, and understanding; a true leader. He didn’t win MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or All-League. Overachieving, under recognized. He taught me the value of my life and my time. The trips we took camping and inventing and creating were some of the happiest times in my life. We explored, we built, we lived. Most of us lose our imagination and intrigue with the world as we get older; Aaron never did. Aaron never will.
Josh works harder than anybody in the world that I know. He does not work hard to please others, but rather expects only the best from himself; anything less is not good enough. He taught me to push myself intellectually, physically, and emotionally. He taught me that I will never feel complete unless in give 100% to everything I do. There were no half-measures with Josh. Moreover, he understands me. He understands me not in an empathetic “I understand how you feel” but rather “I am right there feeling beside you.’ Although he lives a very different life than I do and works far harder than I do, I came to realize that Josh understands fundamentally what is driving me to join the IDF. I saw the same fire for Israel ignite within him on Tiferet and i doubt that fire has ever been extinguished (nor will it ever be). He understood the meaning of experiences deeper than anybody else. TIF was not just four months in paradise. March of the Living was not just an exploration in the history of Ashkenazi Jewry. With one look, especially on Tiferet and March of the Living, I knew that he understood. He got it. Few people have had the extraordinary opportunity of deeply talking with Josh. I did one better: I experienced with Josh. Today and forever, I know he will understand me. I know he will get me and my experiences in a way that nobody else can because we have experienced together. We lived together physically, mentally, and emotionally. Tiferet and March of the Living weren’t necessarily transformative in themselves. Indeed, most kids brushed the emotional ardor off within a few weeks of returning home. With Josh, the conversations and feelings we had gave those experience their meaning. I cannot fathom where I would be right now if I hadn’t lived with Josh; definitely not here and definitely not having these feelings. He challenges me to be the best I can be. Always.
Ben has been my best friend since Middle School. My first real friend in the tumultuous experience that is Middle School. He helped transform me from the kid I was at Stephen S. Wise to the person I became at Milken. Living with him in Israel made me realize that sometimes I do need to chill out, sometimes I am too intense. With him, no matter what we’ve ever done, its been relaxing. Playing X-Box, going to Lunch, even hiking the hills around Jerusalem, I looked at Ben and got the tacit response “chill out a second, laugh at yourself a bit”, and thats what I did. I truly came to value the experience of separating yourself completely from your surroundings, your experiences, your emotions, and looking at the lighter side of things. That being said, when Ben was serious, he meant business. I once told him that if he ever wanted to lose weight and gain muscle, he has to stop chilling out, if he wanted to build a better body, he had to start today. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Those words, although I said them in passing before I left school one day, changed his whole perception of himself. He did make that day the first day. He did start working out. Before the year was out, he was one of the strongest kids I know. He is also the most loving person I know. Nobody in the world, certainly nobody I know, could ever hate Ben. He exudes friendliness, not cordiality. He has the skill, even the superpower that when you are talking to him, he gives you his undivided attention. Nothing else is going on in the world when you’re with Ben. He is a people’s person, a genuine friend. Nobody could duplicate that.
These three friends and I, together, make what was known in our grade as “Room 15”. When we were together, we were inseparable. Together, we were nothing less than “Room 15” and everything that entailed. We are the best combination of attributes I could have ever hoped for. We complimented and built off one-another. Together, we shaped each others world and each others existence. Room 15 was the catalyst. The four months I spent living with Aaron, Josh, and Ben were the “first days of the rest of my life”. Room 15 shaped me and continues to shape me. The first conversations I ever had regarding my joining the IDF were in Room 15. They certainly weren’t the last conversations I had with Room 15 on the topic.
Now far away (I am in Boston, they are at school on the West Coast) and going even farther away, I come to realize the value that this collective friendship had on me. It continues to shape me, it continues to force me to go, to live out my dreams, and even to laugh at myself. Without these friends I would not be the Elon I am today. Thank you Room 15.