Michal Cohen: Who are you? What is your background? Where did you come from?
Rabbi D: Everyone calls me Rabbi D. I am from Israel. All my life I played basketball. In the army I hurt my hand and got surgery, and I couldn’t play basketball. When this happened, I had to stay at home for six months and I decided to volunteer with disabled kids, kids with down’s syndrome. The kid was fourteen years old, and no one could work with him. That was my first experience with education. I started to work with him, and teach him things that no one did before. I helped him to tie his shoes, to go to the bathroom in the right way, I took him to a class which no one ever did. When I succeeded, they decided to give me a “big brother” project. When I finished with him, I didn’t have to go back to the army, but I decided to volunteer and finish my service. But the social services in Ashdod sent a letter to the army, to release me and let me work with this kid. After six months that I worked with him, I took him to different places, and if I would stop, he fell. I worked with him for two years, until he went to a closed program, I worked with him four days a week. With this success, I had a lot of different projects in the the social services. One of them was with a social worker who would work with Russian kids. She couldn’t do it, it was too hard. So the head of the services told me to join her and help her from the side. So I worked with them, the kids were from fourteen to seventeen years old, it was a Russian gang. That was my first interaction with this world. It was a really tough situation. In between something happened, so the group was split to two. One of the leaders went to jail, and so the group split to two. Some of them went and fell down, and some of them I kept and they continued to be with me. I sent them to high school, they finished high school. When they argued with their parents, the parents called me, and I told them what to do and they did it. After this, I went to work with kids that the social services had to take them from their home. That was my life. After I finished that army, I went and finished my high school diploma, to go and study education. I studied special education and Hebrew literature. While I was studying, I worked. It came to a point where the social services and the police had a problem with the Ethiopians. No one knew how to reach them and how to work with them. So they gave me this project. They gave me a list, to go and find thirteen to fourteen teenagers and adults. It took me almost six months to get a group of 22 of them. It was a huge success. My specialty is to get into criminal minds. In Israel, I worked in the schools and in the streets. When I got married, I took my wife also to this world. When we got married, we become foster parents to twelve to fourteen kids at the same time for five years. When I sent my kids to school, I would go and work at school, I had a special education class. It was with twelve boys, they had issues, and I would work with them. After I finished to work in the school, I went and worked with gangs in the street, and after that I would go home and raise my twelve kids. After five years, we finished as foster parents, and moved to Ukraine for a year. I worked at a school where 50 percent were Jewish and 50 percent were not Jewish. It was mixed. Then I moved back to Israel. I worked for a year in a village with kids that were in danger. I was the advisor there. Then I came to America. And I started from the beginning I started to teach and I became an administrator, and now I am a teacher again. I was in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and now I am here.
MC: What is the history with you and basketball?
RD: It is my life. I never studied. I was on the basketball court my whole life. I was never in school. I never had a teacher that would come and take me from the court. That is what I did after, I would have to run after kids and bring them to class. Even after the surgeries, after the first one, I continued to play, and I hurt my hand. I continued to play after the second one, and I hurt my hand and did the third one, and I continued to play. Then I did the fourth one, and I continued to play. Then in Maryland, I continued to play, and I did the fifth one, but I continued to play. Then the doctor told me to stop playing because I would have to do the sixth one, so I said enough. It took me five surgeries to understand that I can’t play. I still go and shoot over here and then with my son. I don’t have any movement in my wrist.
MC: where is your accent from?
RD: Israel, no?
MC: Yes, but there is a mix of something.
RD: My family is from India. I understand fluent Hindi. I can understand a whole conversation in Hindi, and watch movies and everything, but I am too shy to talk. When I see Indian people over here, we have some small talk in Hindi, but I respond in English. But I don’t think that my accent is from India. Probably because I traveled many places. The kids here like to laugh at my accent.
MC: What were you like in high school?
RD: I never studied. I never went to class. I would always argue with my teachers. All my life was around basketball. I was a terrible student.
MC: Do you get along with the basketball kids?
RD: Over here? Yes. I need to coach them one day and teach them how to shoot.
MC: What do you love about Hebrew Academy?
RD: First, I enjoy the connection with the students outside the classroom. I like my colleagues. The administration and Rabbi Assaraf are amazing. He is really supportive, and gives you freedom but is with you. You need to be lucky to get something like this.
MC: What advice would you give high schoolers for the future?
RD: The time is now. I never studied in my life, my eight siblings were all in the top of their class until it came to me. I am okay with that now. You need to enjoy the moment. The time is now.
MC: How did you start carving things into watermelons?
RD: I got bored. No, I like to cook. I like to make different foods, and I like to present them beautifully. When I saw a fruit platter, I want to make it different. So I started to do it. The first one I did was a peacock. Each time it is different. It started to come up. Each time, someone would do something and ask me to bring something, I would bring a fruit platter.
MC: Wow. That is really cool.
RD: This is something that I really like to do now. I like to take pictures, but the other thing is watermelons.
By: Michal Cohen (12th Grade)