This week, the Warrior Word staff sat down with new Judaic studies teacher, Rabbi Massri. Get to know him as he discusses the importance of Judaic Studies at Hebrew Academy, his knowledge of many languages, and his passions.
Tziyona Gheblikian: Where were you born and raised?
Rabbi Massri: I was born and raised in Israel in 1991, and then I was there until I was 21, more or less, after Yeshiva. I was in Latin America for 3 years, and then 5 years ago I came to Miami, so I’ve been here for 5 years already.
Kayla Herssein: Did you serve in the IDF?
RM: No, I didn’t. Because I know that it’s a big deal over here for sure in the school and all the Israeli people in the United States, but there’s a thing in Israel that if you go to Yeshiva, you don’t need to do the army. So, if you learn, obviously in yeshiva, you can’t serve. I really wanted to do it. My parents were really old fashioned; super frum family, so it didn’t work out. Maybe one day my kids will do it.
TG: What made you move to Miami?
RM: That’s funny. I came just to visit a friend for two weeks, and then a Rabbi of a shul in South Beach-they closed that shul already-introduced me eventually to my future wife, and that’s that. It’s just that I was on vacation for two weeks, so imagine that I am stuck over here for 5 years already!
TG: Is your wife is from here?
RM: She is originally from Columbia, but they moved here when she was two years old, so yeah she’s local, kind of.
KH: How long have you been teaching for?
RM: So as a teacher for kids, this year is the first time that I’m doing it. I didn’t know it was even my style. I was always like, “I’m not dealing with kids,” because I thought that I didn’t have the patience to deal with them, and usually I’m giving classes to adults. I’m officially a Rabbi of the shul on 41st—Sha’arei Ezra. So over the years, I gave classes to adults but then—actually you know them: Charly Ohana? Mr. Charly Ohana is the father of Daniel. So yes, he’s coming to my classes. And also Dobin, the father of Jeremy. So I know them from the classes, and then one day Rabbi Assaraf came to the class, and all three of them were like: “You need to go to Hebrew Academy,” and I was like, “Okay, I’ll try it.” That was a few months ago. So I came here two times to give classes before Purim.
TG: Yes, I remember that you taught one of my classes.
RM: Remember? You (Kayla) weren’t here because you are in 9th grade. So it was just to see the place, and then I liked it. I love it over here.
TG: That’s good. Is Hebrew Academy different than you expected it to be?
RM: Yeah, huge difference. I will explain. First, my background is Bnei Brak, so when I think about school, it’s a very primitive concept of school. You come, I was in a school that was only boys, and they teach you; it was very old-fashioned. And then I thought about Hebrew Academy and I didn’t know exactly what to expect for what it’s going to be. I thought it was like more of a public school, I didn’t know. I don’t have family over here in Miami, or siblings that go here, so I didn’t know anything about what Hebrew Academy was all about. And then I was in shock that the kids are, first, so smart. Take it as a compliment. And very into Israel and Judaism. Amazing, amazing! It’s so different than my first thought of Hebrew Academy.
KH: Why do you think Judaic studies are such an important part of Hebrew Academy?
RM: So first, obviously, it’s a private Jewish School. You know people, as Rabbi Assaraf always says, they pay so much tuition not to teach you something that you can go to public school for. Second, I believe that Hebrew Academy, more than other schools, doesn’t just teach you the things that you need for now: English, math, and whatever. They prepare you for reality; for life. And that’s why, first, it’s a family over here. The environment is very nice because the entire staff doesn’t treat you as, “Oh, you’re a student. You need to learn.” It’s a preparation for life. So part of that is, obviously because you’re Jewish, to learn Judaic studies to understand what the holidays are all about. Like Shabbat, why we need to do what we’re doing. Not just because we have to, because that’s the right thing to do. That’s why it’s so important for us and for Hebrew Academy.
TG: What kind of teacher do you see yourself as, or strive to be like?
RM: I like to inspire people. When it comes to young students, they are very clean and pure, and they can understand what you are talking about, even if it’s deep. And we really can help other people to grow and elevate themselves. I like the word “elevation.” And I see myself not as someone who’s just telling you: “Oh, you need to write and take notes.” I want you to go home and think about what you learned. That’s why the class will be a little bit different, so people can engage in what we’re talking about. And the goal is to inspire, including myself because I’m learning every day from them, including you, Kayla.
KH: What do you wish to accomplish with your students by the end of the year?
RM: What’s really important for me is to build a relationship, so that all the learning will be much easier. It will really make an impact when it’s not just as a teacher and student, it’s really more of we communicate on another level. So that’s my goal. Not just at the end of the year, but every day to build strong relationships with the students, so that whatever we are going to talk about will make an impact. Not just; “Oh, I need to learn.”
TG: Did you have any childhood dreams? If so, what were they?
RM: My dream was to be famous. But when I say famous, it’s not like celebrities, but to really get to know people personally. I don’t have Facebook today, but I used to have it. I had around three, or four thousand friends. My thing was that I know all of them personally, I never added someone just because they sent me a request. I knew all of them personally; I at least met them once in my life. And that is my thing today, I always wanted to know people. And that is part of what I am doing. The second dream I had was to talk, because I like to talk, and here I am talking. So I love it.
KH: What were you like as a high school student?
RM: So I was in Yeshiva. It’s a little bit different. My passion was to learn anything, I was super curious. I wasn’t by the system, I learned in a Yeshiva that was very open-minded: Ponevezh, I don’t know if you heard of it. It’s one of the biggest Yeshivot in the whole world, we had like over two thousand students. Crazy thing. But no one would tell you anything. You could basically do whatever you want, so I was just focusing on learning. There wasn’t like a system; I was just learning. So I learned so much. Like today, I could share in class things that I learned ten years ago in Yeshiva. So what I liked, being in high school, is that you don’t worry about anything like wife, kids, mortgage, or whatever. You can just learn. And that’s what I’d like to see in my students, just be curious about new things.
TG: What’s something not many people know about you?
RM: Lots of things. I was living in Panama for one year. I can have a conversation in five, or six languages. English, Spanish, and Hebrew I speak fluently. I read and write. I speak Portuguese, not many people know that I was also in Brazil for six months. I speak Yiddish, and not like fluently, but I learned in a Yeshiva where we used to talk in Yiddish. And, I can have a conversation in Arabic, a little bit. Like questions, answers, you know? Like friendly. I also understand a little bit of Italian and French, but I don’t know if I can really have a conversation. Like if someone is talking to me in French, I understand ninety percent of the time, because I would travel a lot before I came to the United States. I was going everywhere.
KH: What are you most passionate about?
RM: That’s a good question. So, I’m passionate about growing. Doesn’t matter if it’s obviously spirituality-speaking, or business. Always grow; never get stuck in the same place. That’s my passion. To always move on, to grow. Not just me, the people around me. I also believe that it’s a reflection: when you are yourself, so that’s how things work. Like many times, in class, I learn things. I learn about Snapchat and things like these, you learn things. It’s amazing.
TG: That will be all for today, thank you so much for your time!
By Tziyona Gheblikian (11th grade) and Kayla Herssein (9th grade)