For Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, it’s back to the future


By Bayley Sandler, Staff Writer

When Rabbi Yitzchak Etschalom began teaching at Shalhevet the first time, the school wasn’t even a year old. Twenty-eight years later, he is teaching courses with the same ideals that he did back then. “I’ve been a fan of Shalhevet from day one,” said Rabbi Etshalom in an interview. “Actually from before day one — from 1991, when I first started at this school. I always believed that this was an important mission and that this school served an important place in the community, and that has been absolutely proven to be true.” This year, Rabbi Etshalom splits his time between Shalhevet and YULA Boys High School. After he left the Shalhevet faculty the first time, Rabbi Etshalom began working there and is currently going into his 23rd year with the school. It’s his third time at Shalhevet, but his second time splitting his time between both schools at the same time, he said.

“I am proud of my association with both places,” Rabbi Etshalom said. “Each school

places different emphasis on different things in Jewish life. The student population

comes from not totally but somewhat of a different cut of the traditional community.”

Rabbi Etshalom is leading a new breakfast-period program this year called the Beit Midrash Track, open to juniors and seniors who want to work at a level higher than AGS (Advanced Gemara Studies). He teaches using the usual methods of chavruta, or partner-type learning, first and then goes over the material with the class. Students say he draws mind maps on the board to explain every detail of the complicated sugu’yot, or a Gemara that discusses a specific Mishna, that they study.

“In this class we’re able to work on our strategies and our skills in Gemara while also being sure we understand what we’re learning,

— said senior Nicole Klausner.

“There’s a lot of analysis and stuff like that. He’s a really serious Talmud teacher … and everyone in there is committed to putting in the work to strengthen their skills.” Rabbi Etshalom has the first-ever Shalhevet title of Rosh Beit Midrash, and also is teaching a combined 11th-12-grade class of Tanakh.

To celebrate the new program — and perhaps the time of day it meets — school officials purchased a coffee machine for Room 303, where the class meets.

Rabbi Etshalom started his career working at Los Angeles Hebrew High School, teaching students who went to public school but wanted to take Jewish courses. He attended L.A. Hebrew High himself, growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Outside of school, he loves to ski, hike, raft and travel around America and Israel. “I basically live at airports,” he said. Rabbi Etshalom says that “the fact that we take our Torah so seriously here helps us directly with the rest of our lives and what we’re doing during summer vacation… This is why I am proud to be a part of the Shalhevet family.” Tough the material — and his own goals in teaching it — are the same as when he started, the school today, he said,“is a very different place”.

“I’m jazzed by the joie de vivre and the joie des livres,” he said, using French expressions for joy in life and joy about books.