By: Bailey Spitz (9th Grade)
On the morning of November 11 at Newark Liberty Airport, Hebrew Academy high school students awaited the arrival of their delayed flight back home to Miami from the Shabbaton at a sleepaway camp in upstate Pennsylvania. After waking up at four in the morning, students and faculty were exhausted, sitting slumped over and barely awake outside the gate. Seemingly out of nowhere, Student Activities Director Rav Oded Karavani jumped up and started dancing and singing with a giant smile on his face as he attempted to recruit surrounding students to join him.
“When everyone started singing it was a great way to cap off the amazing trip we had,” said Elie Dahan (12th Grade).
Rav Oded has already made an impact in his first semester at Hebrew Academy as student activities director. He has organized Rosh Chodesh activities, an out-of-state Shabbaton, a Chanukah carnival, and an ice skating trip, with many more plans in the works. Despite the heavy workload of large-scale activities, Rav Oded has also placed a significant emphasis on the activities of the students on a daily basis, usually focusing on little things to bring moments of levity to the kids throughout the day. Soon after the Shabbaton, Rav Oded put together a bulletin board with photos of teachers and students fast asleep during bus and plane rides. Funny photos taken of sleeping students and teachers has been a long standing joke amongst the students and faculty, and Rav Oded was eager to jump in at his first opportunity.
“The photo wall is hilarious, and shows all the amazing times we have had with the school,” Kayla Wolfson (11th) said. “You can look at it and realize how much fun we have had this year.”
In addition to serving as the student activities director, Rav Oded also teaches Judaic classes to 9th and 10th grade boys. As someone dealing with students both as an activities directer and a teacher, he has a unique perspective on the student body as a whole.
“I love how positive the vibe is all around. Everyone wants others to succeed whether it be students or faculty,” said Rav Oded.
Rav Oded was born in Kiryat Malachi, Israel, and moved to Charleston, South Carolina at the age of ten before being sent to the Fasman Yeshiva High School in Skokie, Illinois for high school.
“I was a good student academically,” he said. “I was also very active in school and the dorms. From time to time I would forget how to channel my energy into good actions though.”
After high school, Rav Oded moved back to Israel for eight years where he attended Hesder Yeshiva, served in the IDF, and worked for non-profit organizations while staying involved in the educational field. He served as the Southern Regional Director in the Ezra Youth Organization, which consisted of 14 branches and 5,000 kids. Last year, Rav Oded moved to Columbus, Ohio to be closer to his parents and to experience teaching in America. After living there for a year, he grew tired of the cold weather and decided to move to Florida. While Rav Oded likes Miami, he said he misses the food and family in Israel. As a dual citizen and an educator in both Israel and the United States, Rav Oded has noticed differences between teens of the two nationalities.
“In Israeli society, soon after finishing high school, kids have to choose a path that must include army service one way or another, while in America the path to college is pretty much set,” said Rav Oded. “At a very young age Israeli students are expected to be in a more mature state of mind and have a lot more responsibility at a younger age. And Americans have the wonderful freedom to choose their paths based on their interests and desires and this allows for personal growth. Which is better? I don’t know.”
Rav Oded currently lives in Hollywood, Florida with his wife Tehila and their two children, ages three and four. Outside of school, Rav Oded spends his free time with his family, watching and playing soccer, and learning about photography and design. In Charleston he played semi-professional soccer and has also coached several school teams. He is a huge fan of Beitar Jerusalem.
At Hebrew Academy, Rav Oded said his door is always open to “schmooze” with students. One of his favorite activities is doing karaoke with students in his office.
“I welcome students to sit in my office on a regular basis,” he said. “What I found is that many of them have a joy of singing, and I share the same passion as well. We sing mainly Sephardic tunes using the school’s karaoke machine.”
As Rav Oded transitions into the second half of the year at Hebrew Academy, he has many activities in store for the school, including a Tu B’shvat seder and a Color War to remember.
“I am very pleased with my decision to come and join the Hebrew Academy family. Activities were an essential part of high school for me and I am grateful to play a role in making sure students enjoy coming to school and experience meaningful out-of-class moments like I did. Stay tuned, there is plenty more to come *wink wink.* Shabbat Shalom!”