Adi Eshman officiating a Bar Mitzvah
While Adi Eshman is a native Southern Californian, he is now living in New York and is one of Hebrew Helpers’ fantastic mentors teaching Torah and Judaism to students in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Here is an interview with Adi as a part of our ongoing series, Meet The Mentor:
Interview by Laurie Gross
Q: I always find it fascinating how different mentors have found their way to Hebrew Helpers. How did you become a mentor?
A: I started working for Hebrew Helpers when I was still in high school. I worked as a teacher’s assistant with Todd for a year-long series of small group lessons. When I moved to New York, I reached out to Todd, and I began mentoring students here. I had already taught at many local synagogues. In the synagogues, I noticed that I was dealing with students who weren’t motivated to learn, and my relationships with their parents were distant, because of the nature of dropping kids off for school and being removed from the situation. When I became a mentor for Hebrew Helpers, I saw what a difference I could make with students whose backgrounds are different from mine, as well as getting the chance to work one-on-one with students and touching base with their parents on a consistent basis. Most of my students I have learned with do not have the extensive Jewish background with which I was raised.
Q: You say your background in Judaism was extensive. What do you mean by this?
A: Well, I was raised by a rabbi! My mother is Naomi Levy, a rabbi in Los Angeles and author of books like “To Begin Again” and “Einstein & The Rabbi,” and my father is Rob Eshman, the former editor and publisher of the Jewish Journal. Judaism was inherently in my home. I also attended Jewish day school — I first went to Pressman Academy and then Milken Community High School. While we were kosher in our home, we didn’t strictly observe Shabbat. If you had to categorize it, I guess it would be most accurate to say, I had a Conservative upbringing. Besides the Judaism in my home, it was reinforced by going to Camp Alonim, participating in USY, and attending services at Nashuva (my mom’s community in Brentwood). I believe collectively this helped to shape who I am philosophically and the mentor I have become.
Q: Who are you philosophically then?
A: As a mentor, I tend to focus on culture and history. Some of my early experiences made me aware of the prescriptiveness of religion. For example, at my elementary school, all male students were required to wear a kippah. Later, when I attended Milken, where I could choose to wear one or not, it made me realize how I felt about having that choice. I think the lack of choice made me move away from becoming more observant. I am driven by wanting to educate students about the tradition so they can make their own informed choices. For instance, instead of learning about the tallit by simply memorizing the blessing, I will shape the lesson around the symbolism, the history, how other cultures use religious garments, etc. I believe it’s important to understand why we do certain things. If you understand the meaning behind why we have a ritual or recite a certain prayer, then there’s a greater connection to it.
Q: What else do you think you bring to the proverbial table as a mentor?
A: I love the storytelling aspect to teaching. My education is steeped in this. My background is in American History, sociology and dramatic writing, which affects how I see things, and in turn, teach them to my students. As an example, I taught a student about the Ashrei, and how it’s a prayer that’s unique because it says that all nations receive God’s love, not only the Jewish people. Considering that message with regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict makes such material more relevant. But it’s also a hopeful and inspiring message.
Q: What do you do when you are not mentoring students for HH?
A: I used to work as a writer’s assistant for HBO. And a lot of my creative work is for theater. I also started an event series with my girlfriend called “The Greenroom,” where we bring in theater professionals to talk about their experiences in an informal setting.
Q: Does this mean we will be seeing one of your shows in New York soon?
A: Well, I just had a one-act of mine produced at Columbia University. I’m also working on some scripted digital projects that I’m keeping under wraps for now.
Perhaps we will someday say, we knew him when…for now Hebrew Helpers is fortunate to have such a bright and thoughtful young man mentoring our students.
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