Faculty Focus: Mr. Zeno Yoni Merkin (‘21)
Mr. Mustafa Zeno teaches two Arabic classes and a film class at YULA Boys. Mr. Zeno was born in the U.S. and raised in Syria until he moved to Los Angeles for his education. Outside of school, Mr. Zeno is a filmmaker who has produced several films, including one about his family called “Dalya’s Other Country.” The Panther Post: What is it like teaching at YULA Boys, which has a completely different culture and religion from yours? Mr. Mustafa Zeno: I personally love it and really enjoy it. I love being in communities that are different from mine. And it’s such a great opportunity for me to learn so much about the boys and their culture, their religion, where they come from, and for them to learn some of mine. And it has its challenges, of course, [as there are] any time people come from different cultural backgrounds. But I really enjoy it. PP: How did you come to teach at YULA? MZ: A friend of mine who went to YULA as a high-school kid. He grew up and learned Arabic in the Middle East. His name is Tzvi Smith [‘03]. He wanted to start the [Arabic] program here. He started it and asked me if I wanted to join. I said, “Absolute-
ly, I would love that,” and then we taught together one year, both here and at the girls school. He went to Israel for higher education, and I am still here. PP: How does YULA differ from your schooling as a child? MZ: Well, I went to an all-boys high school, so it’s similar in that way. My school did not have this much emphasis on religion, though. We just had a few periods a week for religion. Also, it was in Syria, so there [was] a lot more emphasis on science and math [than on the] arts. Here you have a lot more awesome resources. PP: What is your job outside of school? MZ: I am a filmmaker. I work on documentaries and narrative fictional films. PP: Which films have you made or have been a part of helping to make? MZ: I have worked on many films. The last one that came out was called “Dalya’s Other Country.” It’s about my mom and sister’s experience moving here from Syria after the war, and that was on PBS last year. PP: You teach Arabic at YULA. What’s it like teaching a language to kids who would most likely
Mr. Mustafa Zeno teaches his Arabic I class. never learn it otherwise? MZ: It’s really great. It’s really such a special program because of that, and the fact that most of them know Hebrew makes teaching another Semitic language really fun because I’m able to pull from the similarities from Hebrew and also help them learn the language faster.
when you came to America? MZ: I was born in America, I was born in Santa Monica, and I moved to Syria when I was five, so by the time I moved to Syria, I already spoke English. And we used to visit the U.S. in the summers when we lived in Syria, and also my dad used to speak English at home.
PP: What do you teach in your film class? MZ: I teach both the theory and history of film and also the practice and production of film.
PP: Did you have any teaching experiences before YULA? MZ: Yes. I used to teach Arabic to adults at a Middle Eastern cultural center called the Levantine Center. Now it’s called The Markaz and I taught there for a
PP: How did you learn English
few years. PP: So how does teaching adults differ from teaching high school students the same language? MZ: It’s different because adults come to learning with their own experience, which changes things. It makes teaching them harder in some things and easier in others, and for high-school students you are working more with ... a clean slate.
New Podcast Prepares High-School Listeners for Life ‘Beyond the Test’ Daniel Tarko (‘20)
As part of YULA Boys’ Entrepreneurship Studio class, Ariel Mansano (‘20), along with co-host Rabbi Michael Cohen, Director of Innovation at YULA Boys, created a podcast called “Beyond the Test,” in which the two interview successful people in all fields who share advice designed to help listeners succeed in many aspects of life other than school. Mansano “noticed that you
November 1, when Mansano and Rabbi Cohen interviewed Dave Isbitski, the Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon. Forbes defines a tech evangelist as “a person who builds up support for a given technology, and then establishes it as a standard in the given industry,” and, according to his webpage, Mr. Ibitski is responsible for “introducing the world to the power of Voice.” Rabbi Cohen has been key in
“If I get 10 listens throughout the whole series, and one person is affected by the advice that these people are giving, then in my mind that’s a success.” - Ariel Mansano (‘20)
can find podcasts if you work in industries like marketing, real-estate or finance, but what about if you don’t know what you want to do?” That’s why the podcast is aimed at high-school students: it will give them the opportunity to learn about a wide array of career paths. “Beyond the Test” premiered
getting the podcast up and running with his social media connections and his previous experience with his own podcast, “Educated by Design.” In his introduction to the podcast, Rabbi Cohen explains the goal of “Beyond the Test”: “Whether you are a highschool student or someone still searching for that dream profes-
sion, we hope the conversations here with our amazing guests will inspire you to think beyond the test.” Mansano and Rabbi Cohen have now interviewed several guests. Their second guest was Andy Miller, CEO and founder of NRG eSports, co-owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and former vice president of mobile advertising at Apple. Mr. Miller attributed his success to his ability to tell stories. Mr. Miller said that the best thing he ever did was write a sports column for a newspaper in junior high, where he first learned to tell stories. In the podcast, he emphasized the importance of telling an idea or product’s story in a compelling way. Another successful person whom the pair interviewed is Andy Weir, who received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016 for his award-winning novel, “The Martian.” Other successful people whom Mansano and Rabbi Cohen interviewed include the vice president of development at Twitch;
Ariel Mansano (left) and Rabbi Michael Cohen prepare for an episode of “Beyond the Test.” the CMO of a company that makes virtual reality software; a technology evangelist who has a podcast and has given over 80 keynote speeches; and a writer for DC Comics. “If I get 10 listens throughout the whole series, and one person is affected by the advice that these people are giving, then in
my mind that’s a success,” said Mansano. With “Beyond the Test,” Mansano is filling a gap in the education system by giving listeners a leg up in the world after school. “Beyond the Test” is available for free from Apple Podcasts and Spotify.