ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS
“I always wanted to be a teacher and view life from a positive perspective. Therefore, as an educator my goal is to help students be the best version of themselves.”
~~ Rachel ~~
I met Rachel in the courtyard of a synagogue in La Jolla, California, while playing with my grandson during a family visit. What a win for me! As we played Jewish geography Rachel and I immediately found common ground in our Brooklyn roots.
Rachel Abraham, née Tawil, grew up in Brooklyn and is the youngest child of Carol Abady and Mikey Tawil. Rachel has five older brothers, who are all an integral part of her life. Both her parents and grandparents are of Syrian descent and are members of the Brooklyn Syrian community. Rachel’s great grandparents emigrated from Aleppo, Syria. Time spent with her Ashkenazi maternal grandmother from a young age instilled in Rachel a strong appreciation for different cultures.
Rachel attended Magen David Yeshiva from nursery through high school. “MDY was the most formative institution in my life and was the lifeblood of my childhood. I grew up with legends of the school. My grandparents were involved with MDY, my mom is a teacher there and so was my maternal grandmother and my sister-in-law. My oldest brother is a MDY rabbi, my first cousin, an assistant principal, and my dad was a school president. It’s no surprise that my dream was to be a teacher.”
Rachel describes herself as a spiritual, energetic, enthusiastic, social, and friendly person. She is passionate about people and loves making new friends. Rachel cherished her years at MDY and found school to be safe and fun. “I was my best self as a kid. I loved the other students and won the student athlete sportsmanship award because of my relationships with my teammates,” Rachel recalls. Reading and literature were her favorite subjects and her summers in Deal were “idyllic.” She thrived as both a camper and counselor at Camp David in NJ, building strong relationships with her siblings and mentors there.
A Love of Learning
As I listened to Rachel’s account of her childhood, her trajectory as a student, and her career path, I understood that a strong love of learning is a major driver in Rachel’s life. Love of learning is more than just intellectual curiosity. Love of learning is connected with the way a child or adult engages new information and skills. The educators in Rachel’s life, including her mother, grandmother, and siblings, were inspiring role models. Her maternal grandmother became a pre-school teacher at 60!
Rachel dreamed of becoming an English teacher. She was accepted into the Willian E. Macauley Honors Program at Brooklyn College. As Rachel approached high school graduation, she resolved to keep her Judaic spark alive and enrolled in the Allegra Franco Sephardic Women’s Teachers College.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, Rachel signed up for an online master’s degree in Jewish Education at Yeshiva University.
Rachel yearned to give back to her community. She wanted to infuse children’s lives with the love of Torah, and to influence them by imparting the Torah’s guidance and life lessons.
A Match Made in Heaven
As my readers know by now, as a matchmaker, I enjoy hearing how couples met, if they care to share. Rachel knew her husband Mickey and his family from childhood. They prayed at the same shul. Several people had told Mickey and Rachel about one another, saying they would be great together. Rachel’s oldest brother, Ikey, gave Mickey Rachel’s phone number but forgot to tell Rachel that Mickey would be calling.
“Mickey phoned me thinking I was expecting his call. He starts off with, ‘This is Mickey’ and it was so awkward! I asked, ‘Mickey who?’”
Rachel agreed to go out to dinner with Mickey and the two really hit it off. Mickey, two years older than Rachel, had many qualities and experiences that drew her to him. “He was intelligent, worldly, and dedicated in his commitment to helping people by choosing medicine. Mickey attended Ashkenaz yeshivot and had a diverse background, straddling both the Talmudic and science worlds. He was so warm and kind, and his family was wonderful!”
Mickey studied in China and Peru and volunteered for a year with Kids of Courage, an organization that is dedicated to supporting sick children and their families.
Mickey’s grandfather was born in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai to an Iraqi Jewish family. He moved to England and eventually to Brooklyn’s Syrian community.
Rachel and Mickey were married in 2015. Rachel taught second grade at her alma mater, MDY, and Mickey graduated YU, enrolled in a graduate program in bioethics and applied to medical school. The following year, the couple moved from Brooklyn to Deal when Mickey entered Rutgers University Medical School. In Deal Rachel taught Jewish studies at Hillel Yeshiva for four years. She worked with lower division students (third to fifth grade) as well as middle division children.
While Mickey enjoyed his deep dive into med school, Rachel was developing her mission as a teacher.
“I help kids navigate their challenges while treating them with respect. I support them to be their best selves the way my teachers did. A Judaic studies teacher can be a spiritual guide and a lifeline to students. I aim for a cyclical learning environment where I learn from them, too.”
The couple’s son Morris (now three years old) was born during Rachel’s second year at Hillel. Having paid daycare at Hillel allowed her to return to teaching when Morris was three months old. Rachel connected with her prior year’s Hillel female students during weekly evening shiurim. One of the topics covered was women in Tanach.
Moving Out West
When the couple relocated to California for Mickey’s seven-year residency in neurosurgery at University of California San Diego, Rachel realized she was facing a huge transition. “I was terrified, and I felt so many emotions. I had never even visited California. Mickey had made two trips. We opened the match email on a Zoom call with both families. After we recovered, Mickey and I agreed this would be our next adventure and an opportunity to live in a beautiful and warm city. After all, on our first date, Mickey told me he wanted to be a neurosurgeon!”
Rachel’s positive energy and half-glass full approach to life paved the way for a successful move. Moving across the country in June 2020, three months after the onset of the pandemic, with a two-year old, was no easy feat.
Rachel proudly kicked off her sixth year of teaching in California. In the morning, she is at Torah High School of San Diego, an all-girls Orthodox high school, and in the afternoons she teaches third grade at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School. “I adjust from high school to third grade in the same day. School saved my life this year. When we made the tremendous move out west, teaching gave my day meaning and was my anchor, and was something exciting to look forward to.”
Rachel enjoys teaching her high school students about female role models in Tanach, communicating that they can learn from women of our ancient texts. She asks her students to articulate at least one takeaway.
Rachel consistently strives to enhance her teaching approach. “Mickey is the most supportive human being on the planet, encouraging me to further my education and do what fulfills me.”
Rachel has a lot on her plate with teaching at two schools, a toddler in pre-k, and a baby in daycare, with no grandparents close by as back up. Mickey works long days and sometimes six days a week. How does Rachel keep all the balls in the air? “We give each other grace. Family comes first. No phones during dinner, I grade papers after we eat, Sunday is family day – it’s quality vs. quantity when it comes to time together and Mickey’s demanding schedule.”
Community and Connection
Before moving, the couple reached out to Rabbi Daniel Reich and his wife Brooke of Congregation Adat Yeshurum. Rachel lined up job interviews and presented model lessons on Zoom and even found an apartment virtually.
Rachel and Mickey are grateful for the warm welcome of the Reich’s and the Adat Yeshurun community, including the young professionals.
Although Mickey attended Ashkenaz yeshivot, Rachel admits that Shabbat services were a culture shock at first. They adjusted to the davening and things improved from a Covid standpoint. Their daughter Jennifer, five months old, was born in California. The community generously provided a Meal Train, invited them for Shabbat meals, and they began to feel “comfortable, loved, and settled.”
Rachel has cooked for her new friends and introduced them to Syrian delicacies. “Food is a huge cornerstone and brings people together. I share all my Sephardic cookbooks.”
To relax and recharge, Rachel loves to read and spend time with her family. You can connect with Rachel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at email@example.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).