Something a little calmer for a teacher who dives with sharks


RESPECT: Ramie Smith, a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, has also taught prisoners. She said she follows the same principles whoever her students are.

By Benjamin Zaghi, Senior Editor

You may not see new Judaic Studies teacher Ramie Smith every day, because she’s teaching just one class this year, 10th Grade Talmud.  She’s also developing a sex education curriculum with Rabbi Block, which will be taught to all grades, not just seniors.

But if you can catch her, she may still have time to speak about her experiences teaching in New York’s Riker’s Island jail, diving in the Bahamas with sharks, or producing and directing a developing YouTube channel.

The Cleveland native taught criminal justice ethics at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex with an average daily population of 10,000 male and female inmates.  It was for a chaplaincy unit that was part of her four-year training at Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, N.Y., where she was ordained to serve in clergy roles in Orthodox settings.

“It was a very interesting teaching experience because my students were very religious and not as difficult as I thought they would be,” she said. “I learned a lot more than they did, my priorities were recalibrated and the experience really made me rethink what is important in life.”  

Another passion she has had ever since she was little is sharks. Her interest was so great that she managed to get an internship in the Bahamas for a couple of weeks with 16 scientists to study genetic and behavioral research on lemon sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks. She had to “free dive” with the animals, which means literally swimming underwater with no oxygen tank or no cage for protection.

She loved it, and said the hardest thing about it was keeping halakha.

“The trip was a very transformative experience,” she said. “Always going to a Jewish school and living in the a Jewish community can be very easy when you are living with people who don’t know what Shabbat and kosher is,” which was not the case in the Bahamas.

Yeshivat Maharat graduates have been called Maharat, Rabbanit and Rabba, and Ramie Smith was called Rabba Ramie at her most recent job, which was at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. But Rabbi Segal has said there would be no discussion of her title this year, so students can decide what to call her on their own.

Because she is teaching only part-time at Shalhevet, she will also spend time producing and directing videos for Grok Nation developing their YouTube channel.

She said the same principles guide her teaching wherever she is.

“I teach all my classes based on mutual respect, whether I am teaching middle schoolers or my class of women who are 80+ in shul,” she said. “I love to learn with people; my goal is not to talk at students, but to learn and grow together through the learning.”