Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh’s newest hires had to cross more than a bridge to get to the Squirrel Hill school. Several weeks ago, Noam and Orel Ohayon left Sderot, a city in southern Israel, en route to Pittsburgh. Having now partially adjusted to a time, climate and overall culture change, the married couple and parents of two toddlers are eager to begin their three-year stint as shlichim, emissaries, at the Jewish day school.
Per their charge of disseminating knowledge and connecting with Diaspora students, the Ohayons will teach an assortment of Judaic subjects, including Hebrew language, chumash and the philosophy and laws applicable to the land of Israel based on the works of Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Moses ben Maimon and Mosen ben Nachman.
The educational endeavors will build on efforts already established through Sherut Leumi, a program through which post-high school Israeli girls fulfill their national service requirement by coming to the school for one year and teaching Zionism, explained Hillel Academy administrators.
Noam and Orel are “going to add passion and excitement about the land of Israel,” said Yikara Levari, Hillel Academy’s assistant principal. “When I met them, they were just so excited and authentic.”
“Noam and Orel are energetic and idealistic, they are everything we wanted in a teacher,” echoed Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy’s principal.
The Ohayons are well equipped to the task ahead. Back in Sderot, Noam, 28, taught biology and physics to middle school and high school students, along with Talmud and Mishna to 11th- and 12th-graders. Orel, 26, was an English teacher for seventh- and eighth-grade students.
With the school year rapidly approaching, the Ohayons are doing their best to adjust.
“It was a hard experience in the beginning,” said Orel. “We had to leave our family, friends, our house, furniture, our community in Sderot and our jobs. Everything is new.”
Despite the obstacles, however, the Ohayons are excited to begin their roles. Their commitment to spreading a love of Israel to those outside its borders began years earlier, explained Orel, who fulfilled her second year of national service by working as an emissary in Monsey, New Jersey.
When the opportunity presented itself through the World Zionist Organization to perform similar functions, the Ohayon family pursued the chance.
“We talked about it a lot and decided it would be good for us,” she said. “Our passion and love is for the Jewish community.”
The young parents connected online with community members throughout the United States and learned about various openings.
“After several interviews we decided the Pittsburgh community attracted us because of the school and the environment,” said Noam. “Pashtut (simplicity) and anavah (humility) are the M.O. of the community.”
Hillel Academy, which interviewed five Israeli couples for the three-year position and privately raised the necessary funding to support the overall endeavor, is extremely pleased with the Ohayons’ decision to join the Pittsburgh Jewish community, explained Weinberg.
“We thought their experience in Sderot was really special and they have experience teaching,” he said. “They know differentiated instruction and project-based learning. Their understanding of good pedagogy was really impressive.”
Although the Ohayons are excited for their classrooms to fill, they also hold multiple interests apart from teaching. Noam enjoys playing guitar and hiking, and is an ornithological enthusiast who trekked through Israel researching birds. He is a fluent Hebrew and English speaker and is working on his Spanish and Portuguese. “I like learning languages,” he said.
Orel is a culinary aficionado who enjoys baking challah and making couscous, fish and meat. “I really like to cook. This is my big love after Noam,” she said.
Despite the proximity of nearby supermarkets, preparing particular dishes has been a new adventure, as in America there is a slew of products, both domestic and international, but the ones most desired are nowhere to be seen, explained Orel. “If anyone finds cornflakes from Telma, tell me. Kellogg’s are not the same at all,” she said.
Searching for a specific cereal may be one quest, but finding those willing to help shouldn’t be too tough. Since their arrival, the Ohayons have been flooded with gifts and greetings.
“We are so excited to be here,” said Orel. “We want to thank everyone for their warm welcome. We have received a lot of messages. People have invited us over. People even dropped off cookies.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.