Meet Emanuel Colón
“It is amazing to have students who at the beginning of the school year didn’t know the English alphabet and today they are reading full words. They make me a proud teacher and make all of the hard work worth it,” said MITF fellow Emanuel Colón.
Emanuel, 22, teaches students in 3rd through 6th grades at the Noam Banim School, an all-boys religious elementary school in Ramot in northern Jerusalem. Emanuel is excited about the English section he opened in the school’s library, from which students can check out books to practice their English reading.
“My boys were excited to check out books so that they could read English in their homes. Once they finish reading a book they bring it back to school and check out another to take home. Today they are readers, tomorrow they will be leaders,” Emanuel said proudly.
With this his seventh time in Israel, Emanuel is feeling quite at home in the country and is considering staying on and making aliyah. He loves Jerusalem and is glad to be living in a shared apartment in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. He finds there aren’t as many native English speakers (or Anglos, as they are called in Israel) in the area, so he has many opportunities to use his Hebrew while interacting with neighbors and local merchants.
Improving his Hebrew is a focus for Emanuel this year. However, his lack of fluency in the language does not get in the way of connecting with his students. “The students and I figure out what’s to communicate and understand each other, let that be by hand motions, acting it out, or asking “Rabbi Google” (Google translate),” he said.
Emanuel, whose Sephardic Jewish family hails from Puerto Rico, grew up in Worcester, in central Massachusetts. He attended Worcester State University, earning a degree in criminal justice law with a concentration in ethnic studies and minor in Spanish. In parallel to his studies, Emanuel worked as a resident assistant (RA) on campus, a teacher at synagogue Hebrew schools, and as a counselor at an after school program at the local JCC. Emanuel also loves to dance and was part of a competitive Latin dance team.
A religiously observant lifestyle is an important part of Emanuel’s identity. He always keeps his head covered and wears tzizit (a fringed religious undergarment). He also keeps Shabbat and kashrut on a regular basis. At the same time, Emanuel takes a pluralistic and inclusive outlook toward Judaism.
“There are many ways to be Jewish and we can learn from one another. It is important to affirm the plurality of religious expression within Judaism. The goal is to maintain unity. God gave us the gift of Torah. The Torah is the only way to achieve real unity. I encourage others to find their own level of observance by adapting rituals from our Jewish tradition into their everyday life,” he said.
According to Emanuel, his Judaism inspires him to pursue values such as freedom, social justice, and equality — including gender equality.
“I am an Orthodox Jew who is committed to halacha (Jewish law), and at the same time very supportive and vocal about gender equality and religious freedom. I attend an Orthodox Partnership minyan that is working to expand the spiritual, ritual, and intellectual opportunities for women within the framework of halacha,” he said.
For Emanuel, spending a year in Jerusalem with Ramah Israel teaching English was the right choice. “What an amazing opportunity,” he said.