Rabbi Saul Mandel
U. of Pennsylvania, BA in History 1976
U. of Pennsylvania JD and Wharton School of Business MBA 1979
Co-Director, Center Program
Ohr Somayach has many interesting people who have both studied here and are on our staff. One of the most interesting is Rabbi Saul Mandel. Rabbi Mandel grew up in Philadelphia, a child of Holocaust survivors. Both of his parents came from religious homes and, while they were very traditional, the home was not strictly Orthodox. From grade six through twelve, Saul attended the Akiva Day School — a local, non-denominational Jewish day school that emphasized academics. Saul was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school near his home. He majored in History, where he focused on Jewish History. He graduated Summa cum Laude. After completing his BA he was accepted into a joint JD-MBA degree program at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania and its Law School.
While studying for his undergraduate degree he did a lot of reading and thinking about Judaism, and by the time he graduated he had made a decision to become religious. Although the Law School had a student body that was one-third Jewish, he was the only Jewish student who wore a yarmulke.
After graduation he took a job with the General Electric Company as a labor lawyer in their Pittsfield, MA, regional headquarters. On weekends Saul travelled to New York City to seek his basherte (soul mate). At long last he met her: Paula Zalis, a Bais Yaacov young lady from Baltimore, who had just graduated from Barnard with a degree in social work. They were married and they settled in Pittsfield. As was the case with many old industrial towns throughout America, Pittsfield had a “dying” Orthodox Jewish community. In fact, because he could lein (read the Torah with its cantillation) and daven, and was a married man, he was unanimously appointed as the unofficial rabbi of the shul.
After two years in Pittsfield the family relocated to Silver Spring, MD, and Rabbi Mandel worked for GE for another two years. During that time he became very involved in the Orthodox community and in leaning Torah. In fact, to make up for a lack of Torah education as a child, he enrolled in a local yeshiva high school and spent the mornings in a gemara class with 10th graders. As humbling as that experience might be for most people, it only whetted his appetite for more. He wanted to study in Yeshiva in Israel, and both he and his wife had a strong desire to make aliyah. Making a living, though, was an issue that needed to be resolved.
In preparation for the move he decided to go into business for himself, a business that would provide him with a steady income without his needing to work full-time. His father-in-law was a franchisee of Playbill in Washington, DC. Playbill is the program that is handed out to everyone entering a theater. It has a synopsis of the acts, introduces the characters and the actors, and has a lot of advertising. Anyone who knows Rabbi Mandel knows that he has great enthusiasm. Selling ads was a line of work in which he thought he could excel, and since he only needed to sell the advertising once a year, it fit well with his plans for aliyah. He could spend five or so weeks a year in the States selling ads, and spend the rest of the time in Israel at Ohr Somayach. At the time, Baltimore had no Playbill franchisee. Saul convinced the Playbill company that he should be their representative in Baltimore. He spent a number of years building up the business, and through that he was able to maintain his family until he joined the Ohr Somayach staff.
About 20 years ago he and Rabbi Nachi Brickman started the very successful Derech Program at Ohr Somayach. About the same time he helped found the Center Program, where today he is a co-director along with Rabbi Shlomo Wiener. He is also in charge of the JLE program at Ohr Somayach, and works on the side as a real estate agent in Jerusalem. His family has grown, thank