This week, the Warrior Word sat down with new Judaics teacher Rabbi Wrightman. Four of his 11th grade students, Shayna Boymelgreen, Mery Kamhazi, Hannah Mayer and Cathy Safdie, spoke to Rabbi Wrightman about his new job at Hebrew Academy, his new role as a father and his love of snowboarding.
Hannah Mayer: Good afternoon, Rabbi Wrightman. How are you?
Rabbi Wrightman: I’m great, thank you.
HM: We just want to ask you a few questions about yourself. Where did you grow up?
RW: I grew up in Toronto, Canada.
HM: And what school did you go to?
RW: I went to the local Chabad school there for elementary, it’s called Cheder Chabad.
HM: Where did you go after?
RW: I went there for elementary and then I went to the Yeshiva in Toronto for four years when I was in high school. Then I continued at Yeshiva in Israel, then in New Jersey, and then in Pennsylvania.
Mery Kamhazi: Was your school co-ed in elementary school?
MK: How did it make you feel only going to school with guys?
RW: I was actually blessed to have really great friends. Many of them were from out of town so it was really exciting.
HM: What were you like in high school?
RW: What was I like?
Shayna Boymelgreen: Like a trouble maker or studious?
RW: I think I was a little bit of both
HM: You were a trouble maker?
RW: Yeah, is that not obvious?
HM: What did you do?
RW: To a certain degree, there’s different types of trouble.
HM: So what did you do to cause trouble?
RW: I did enjoy learning, that part I took seriously. I also liked having a good time.
HM: Don’t we all.
RW: I think the principal in the school I went to was a dominating sort of character. So I stood up for myself a few times.
HM: So not a troublemaker, like a rebel.
RW: Sort of, yeah.
HM: What was your first job and how old were you when you got it?
RW: My first job was a camp counselor.
MK: What camp?
RW: It’s called LDC, Lebovitch Day Camp, in Toronto and it’s a summer camp there.
Cathy Safdie: How old were you?
RW: I think I was either seventeen or eighteen.
HM: Where did you teach before Hebrew Academy?
RW: I taught in two schools before, the most recent one was in Wilksburry, Pennsylvania and it was a small Yeshiva there. I actually went there myself before I taught there. Not as a student but as an older brother type of thing and I was there for two years.
SB: I know a lot of people that went there
RW: It’s an incredible school, still very dear to my heart.
HM: Is this your first time teaching girls?
RW: No, it’s not my first time teaching girls, but it’s my first time teaching high school girls. I taught in a summer girls program in Israel.
CS: How old were the girls?
RW: The girls were somewhere between nineteen and twenty-five.
HM: So they were much older than us?
RW: A few years older.
CS: How long ago?
RW: So not this past summer, but the summer before that. So two summers ago. That was actually really incredible.
SB: Were they older than you?
RW: They were a little younger
HM: Are there any challenges that come with teaching girls that don’t come with teaching boys? Also when you first started working here was the first day teaching the girls awkward?
RW: The truth is, I’ve actually been working with teenage boys for a few years now and I think I have a really good understanding of where they are coming from, and I think I can be a lot more casual with boys than with girls so in that sense it’s easier. I think I can say something that the guys would not automatically interpret as a, I don’t know, like a joke or something that maybe the girls would get thrown off by.
HM: And the second question?
RW: Was my first day awkward? No, I don’t think so.
MK: Were you not scared to teach girls the first day?
HM: I feel like people are scared of teenage girls because they think they’re mean.
RW: I feel like that’s a really interesting question. The answer to that is no because for me when I look at people I try to see human beings, not just groups of throwing people into categories, every person an individual soul going through something and when I remember that there’s nothing to be afraid of, people are people.
HM: How did you meet your wife?
RW: I was in Florida for Chanukah a couple years ago, three years ago I think, and my mother wanted me to talk to someone who was supposed to be good at setting people up. So I decided to give it a shot. I drove up to her house and talked to her for about half an hour. Ten minutes into the conversation she’s like, I have an idea of somebody and she quickly wrote it down so she wouldn’t forget it, and literally we spoke for half an hour. I walked away thinking nothing was going to come from it, like how much can someone know you for half an hour? But she thought of my wife somehow.
MK: How long did you date your wife before getting married?
RW: We went out for 6 weeks, I think.
CS: That’s it?
RW: Yes, and we’re still going out today.
CS: How did you know she’s the one?
RW: It’s a mixture of things, I don’t know.
HM: What’s it like being a new father?
RW: It’s pretty incredible. I think only a few days ago did it finally hit me that I have a son, that I have a child. It’s really amazing and to see him develop and grow: smile, laugh, interact, all these little milestones.
HM: If you could do anything besides teach what would you do?
RW: This is what I want to be doing that’s the truth. But if this wasn’t an option, probably something like therapy.
SB: Would you ever be a famous singer?
RW: That would actually be fine. In a fantasy world I would like that.
MK: I want to hear you sing.
RW: One of these days.
MK: Remember we said you were going to bring the guitar in?
RW: You said that, not me.
CS: What are your hobbies, besides studying Torah and all that?
RW: I really enjoy singing. That is something that I enjoy doing, singing, playing guitar. I also like snowboarding.
MK: I would have never imagined that.
RW: That I liked snowboarding? Yeah.
HM: What kind of music do you like?
RW: Jewish music, but there’s a lot of different styles in Jewish music.
HM: Do Hebrew Academy students have good Judaica knowledge?
RW: It depends on the student, but I think it’s kind of lacking and could be much better. There are a lot of things that are important ideas, important things that students don’t know. How can we improve on that? Possibly by having sorts of competitions and stuff, where it’s becomes part of the school culture to want to know things and that type of thing.
HM Are you aware that you’re related to Mery Kamhazi.
RW: No I had no idea (to Mery) Are we related?
MK: Your wife.
RW: My wife is related to Mery Kamhazi? I wasn’t aware of that either. Fill me in here.
MK: We’re not really related, but second cousins. Your wife shares a cousin with my mother’s first cousin.
RW: Who’s that?
MK: Anabelle Watkins?
RW: I’ve never heard of her. Cool.
By: Shayna Boymelgreen, Mery Kamhazi, Hannah Mayer and Cathy Safdie (11th Grade)