Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel with Solomon Kaplan, 6, at the Special Person event at Lone Pine Elementary School
Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel with Solomon Kaplan, 6, at the Special Person event at Lone Pine Elementary School

Training and fast action allowed Rabbi Bennett to save his buddy.

When Rabbi Josh Bennett accepted an invitation to have lunch with his 6-year-old friend, Solomon Kaplan, he expected a pleasant hour of food and conversation. He did not expect to end up saving the boy’s life.

Excited to be spending time with his rabbi and special friend at the Special Person event at Lone Pine Elementary School in West Bloomfield, Solomon forgot what he had been taught about swallowing his food before talking. Suddenly, a bite of his hoagie sandwich went down the wrong way, and he found himself choking. Unable to speak, he tapped the rabbi’s arm to get his attention. Fortunately, Bennett, who has had CPR training that included the Heimlich maneuver, was quick to react. He positioned himself behind Solomon, wrapped his arms around him and administered two solid thrusts to the boy’s chest, dislodging the piece of food.

“I’ve taken several CPR courses, most recently at a Temple Israel staff training, to be prepared for that moment, but it’s different to have it happen in real life,” Bennett said. “I’m thrilled I was able to be there for him.”

Solomon’s mother, Karen Kaplan, a PTO member, was at the school helping out with the event when she saw her son begin to choke from across the room. Before she could respond, Bennett had the situation under control.

“He knew what to do and he reacted immediately,” Kaplan said.

Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel with Solomon Kaplan, 6, at the Special Person event at Lone Pine Elementary School
Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel with Solomon Kaplan, 6, at the Special Person event at Lone Pine Elementary School

The Kaplans had known Bennett through the family’s membership at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, but it was when Solomon’s older brothers played baseball with Bennett’s sons that Solomon and the rabbi began to develop a deeper friendship.

Last year, Solomon invited Bennett to the annual Special Person event, instead of asking a family member the way most students do. Despite the demands of the hectic Jewish holiday season, Bennett was honored to accept.

“We told Solomon that rabbis are really busy during September, but he never says no,” Kaplan said. “They really have a special bond.”

While Bennett believes the holidays are a time to connect with the larger community, he says building relationships with individuals is at the heart of his service as a rabbi.

“The fact that a 6-year-old boy wants to have his rabbi as his guest is a pretty amazing thing,” Bennett said. “I will be his guest for as long as he’ll have me.”

While this was the first time Bennett has used the Heimlich technique, he urges everyone to receive basic first aid/CPR training.

“Judaism teaches us that if you save a human life, you save the entire world, so to be put into that situation is pretty awesome,” he said.

After taking a few moments to process the situation and breathe a joint sigh of relief, Bennett and Solomon enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.

“He’s my special person for life,” Solomon said.

CPR training that includes Heimlich maneuver is available throughout the year from a variety of organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association at locations across Metro Detroit. Visit www.redcross.org or www.cpr.heart.org or call your local fire or police department for more information.

See a video of Rabbi Bennett and his friend.