Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Nechemia Gershman is a two-time alumnus of HTC, graduating FYHS in 2011 and later attending the Beis Midrash and College for Men. Following his time at FYHS, he attended Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh in Israel for two years. Upon returning from Israel, he came back to HTC for college, where he earned his degree in Psychology. He then attended Northeastern University, where he obtained his Master’s in Special Education. Though he currently works as a special ed teacher in Enger Public School, Nechemia is in school to specialize in Adaptive Physical Education, with plans of becoming a special ed gym teacher. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife Chani and his daughter Ricki and is iy”h expecting another on the way.
“When I started at HTC,” said Nechemia, “I was thinking of doing something more in the psychology field, like social work or PsyD. In my classes, I became very close to some of my teachers. I remember talking to one of them in a class of three students, all of us getting our degrees in psychology. The professor ended up talking us all into doing something that we really wanted to do. By the end of one class, none of us ended up doing psychology. I ended up pursuing my passion as a special ed teacher, one of the other guys ended up as a nurse, and the other guy ended up becoming a Rebbe. So even though he was a practicing psychologist, he pushed us to do what we really wanted to do and helped us figure out what would ultimately make us happy in the end.”
A large part of Nechemia’s interest in special ed began while in high school. During his time at HTC, Nechemia was incredibly involved in the special needs community. While in FYHS, he was working for Keshet in the summers and took part in big brother programs through Chai Lifeline, much of which was coordinated through the Yeshiva. “The Yeshiva set up these programs and that kind of led me to discovering this path that I really liked. While in HTC, I was an advisor for Yachad, I was doing Keshet Sunday school, and just participating in a lot of chesed opportunities that HTC was really accommodating of.” It was largely through programs and opportunities like these that sparked his interest in the field and led him towards the path he chose.
Aside from impacting his future career, Nechemia also credits HTC with contributing to his appreciation for Torah and Mitzvos. “One really memorable experience at HTC,” he said, “was when Rabbi Friedman became the Rosh Yeshiva. After davening one morning at the high school, the Beis Midrash guys suddenly came dancing in with Rabbi Friedman to announce him as the Rosh Yeshiva. It was just an incredibly beautiful moment of Kavod HaTorah.”
“Another big Kavod HaTorah moment,” he recalled, “was when Rabbi Teller’s funeral zt”l was held at The Yeshiva. It was just packed; there were tons of rooms filled up. Even though it was pre-Zoom, they had a live stream running so more people could be a part of it. People from all over the community were coming in; students from Ida Crown came; it was just a big Kavod to who he was, and it was incredible to see.”
As an alumnus of multiple branches of HTC, Nechemia found each part of the institution to have its own qualities that made the school so unique. “Individually, the high school was special because it really prepared us for the next steps in life. I remember when I got to yeshiva in Israel, there were guys who never experienced Sunday school or night seder. I felt like we were some of the best prepared when it came to learning or just the schedule of the day. In high school, even though we were in school from 7:30 am-8:15 pm, we were still constantly filling our time on Sundays with volunteer waitering at chesed weddings, participating in Yachad opportunities, and taking on Chai Lifeline opportunities. Even though our days were so busy, we still found time to do things in the community. They encouraged us to be community leaders even as young people.”
One of the perks of being in the Beis Midrash, Nechemia recalled, was the small learning environment. “The Rosh Yeshiva knew who you were and the Rebbeim were very close with the guys,” he said. “The Rebbeim took a big interest in what you were really going to be doing with your life and helped you. Whether it was dating, finances, your career path, or getting you through classes. I remember a guy came who was homeschooled his whole life and had never really done school before. The amount that the Rebbeim went out of their way to make sure that he was taught how to study for a test and to help him be successful was incredible. There was just a lot of personalized attention to make sure that everyone felt like they could be successful."
“The HTC institution as a whole was amazing,” he said, “because the guys are so diverse there and they don’t want to change that. They want to encourage you to live a life of Torah, whatever that may mean for you.
“Something valuable that I learned at HTC was to be involved in the community. If there is something that needs to get done, you should step up and do it. Don’t wait around for someone else to. That’s something big that we were taught in high school and Beis Midrash: just get involved; find something to do.
“Current and future students should take advantage of the Rebbeim. Learn what you can and keep in touch with them. I still see the Rebbeim from the high school and Beis Midrash and I’m still very close with a lot of them and still feel like I could talk to them about different decisions in my life.”