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For the week ending 28 February 2015 / 9 Adar I 5775

Rabbi Guy Matalon

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age: 44

Omaha, Nebraska

NYU, PhD Medieval Jewish and Islamic Thought

Director of the Mechina Program at Ohr Somayach

Guy Matalon moved to Sherman Oaks, California from Holon, Israel with his family as an 11 year old. Growing up in a secular Israeli home in “the Valley” helped the family maintain their strong Jewish and Israeli identity in a foreign land. That identity kept him tethered to his heritage throughout his high school, college and graduate school years. He received his BA in Political Science from California State, Northridge. After post-graduate studies at UCLA and UC Berkeley, he travelled to NYU for his Masters and PhD.

His journey back to observance began with his study of the Rambam as a doctoral candidate. “The Rambamhad great influence on me when I began studying Jewish thought. His logical argument, honesty and complexity drew me to study in greater depth not only the MishnaTorah code of law, but also his philosophical works. I really enjoyed his Arabic — his style was clear and beautiful.”

It continued with first teaching position at the University of Nebraska. The warmth of the Jewish community of Omaha and the family values and menstchlichkeit of even the non-Jews of the Midwest Corn Belt provided the perfect soil for him and his newly-married wife Elinor (also a sabra) to grow their attachment to the faith of their ancestors. “The Omaha Jewish community opened my eyes about the importance of belonging and learning more about my own heritage. It was an amazing place to start a family, my academic career and my communal leadership role.”

Dr. Matalon was not only hired as a professor at the university, but also to be the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish Education of Omaha. As such, he gained not only teaching skills, but important budgeting and organizational skills that he needs on a day-to-day basis as Director of the Mechina Program.

Through his study of Jewish Philosophy, like the Rambam and other Rishonim in the original (both Hebrew and Arabic), and having acquired the skills to learn Gemara, he delved deeper into the sources, and through self-education became proficient in the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi along with various other foundational texts. He maintained personal Torah study with the local Orthodox rabbi in Omaha, Rabbi Kutner, and later with Rabbi Gross, to make sure his understanding of the texts was correct. After the birth of their two sets of twins, now 10 and 7, the family decided to make aliyah. Their decision to move to Israel was motivated by their desire to come home both physically and spiritually. He and his wife rented an apartment in Rechovot in 2011, where they live today. Elinor first worked for a grass roots kiruv organization and now does resource development for various Jewish community organizations.

Rabbi Matalon learned in the Kollel of Ohr Somayach under the tutelage of his neighbor in Rechovot, Rabbi Avraham Reisman. After a year, Rabbi Reisman told him that he was now ready to teach.

“Teaching at Ohr Somayach is a great challenge because students come from all sorts of backgrounds and are in different places in their journey. I enjoy the personal connection I am able to make with the students and the deep discussions we enter into during classes. Another great aspect of teaching at Ohr Somayach is the relationship and the camaraderie that exist between the rabbis. It strengthens me and inspires me.”

And as to the future, Rabbi Dr. Matalon has this to say: “I want to continue my learning and focus on issues of life and death. I find the topic relevant to all stages of life, and the moral dilemmas such cases present allow for greater clarity of what G-dwants from us. I also would like to continue to offer new topics for learning and create new opportunities to expose young people to the intellectual power of the Torah.”

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