NJP (Nice Jewish Person) Rachel Matz

Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Rachel Matz!

TW: How did you decide to make your adult life in Metro Detroit?

RM: I don’t know that it was ever a decision so much as an opportunity to stay in the area in which I grew up and teach in an incredible school district. I think the growth in the Metro Detroit area in the past ten years, particularly as it relates to programming for young adults has been really exciting, and I’ve been glad to be a part of it. I’m also very close with my family who are, for the most part, local, so making a life elsewhere never really made sense to me. 

TW: You spend your days as an English teacher -- what's your take on the state on public education today? And what's it like teaching at the high school you went to (kind of, since Andover merged into BHHS)?

RM: I think that public education is one of those constantly changing and evolving beasts that nobody has been able to get a true hold of. I agree philosophically with a lot of the changes or policies made, but in practice I struggle with the fact that non-educators are consistently telling teachers and those in the field of education what school should look like for every student. There are a lot of equity issues in education, and there is a significant amount of work to be done in that arena.

At first, it was very strange to teach where I grew up. I was kicked out of the staff lounge on my first day by a former science teacher who didn’t realize that I had been gone for four years! Other than those initial growing pains, it has been great to teach in a building and a community that I am so invested in. Three years ago, when Andover and Lahser merged to become Bloomfield Hills High School, I thought I would lose part of that connection, but I still feel a great sense of pride contributing to students’ education in my former district. I am lucky to have amazing students and colleagues, and I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.

TW: Rumor has it your favorite book of all time is The Great Gatsby. What about the book moves you? 

RM: That is absolutely my favorite book, although my love for the Harry Potter series cannot be overlooked. I really love the way that The Great Gatsby is written—there is so much meaning packed into each word and interaction that it is fun to analyze and unpack. I also love the 1920s, so the insider glimpse into life in that decade is exciting. I think my love of the novel really increased when I started teaching it; watching my students unpack Fitzgerald’s writing and come up with their own analysis of the text has made me consider it in a new way every time I read it. 

TW: You're a certified zumba instructor -- tell us about how you found your way into that! Did you always love Latin beats?

RM: Ha! I unfortunately don’t have much time for teaching Zumba anymore, but I now coach the Varsity Poms team at school, so I get my dancing fix through them. I have always loved to dance, and after studying abroad in Spain I had an even stronger appreciation of different styles of music and dance. I took a ton of Zumba classes at home and at U of M, and then was encouraged to get certified. One of the reasons I still love Zumba is that anyone can do it. Nobody in a Zumba class cares if you’re getting the steps right, if you’ve ever danced a day in your life, if you’re going left or right or not moving much at all—the only thing that matters is that you’re having fun. There is something really freeing about that in the workout space.

TW: You're a singer! And in a band! Details please!

RM: I have been singing my entire life in choirs, musicals, or just the car (where my true talent shines). Singing in a band is something I just kind of fell into. My dad, who plays percussion, had a band, and they practiced in our basement. One day they wanted somebody to sing harmonies on a few songs, and the rest is history! Singing with that group (eventually called Conga Blonde) led to singing in an original group (Null Paradox), and a bunch of fun gigs and opportunities. Conga Blonde does all covers, and my favorites are anything with good harmonies—anything by Fleetwood Mac or Heart are definite standouts. The members of the band have been so busy with other projects that we haven’t performed in a while, but I think it’s time to get the band back together!

TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?

RM: This is a tough one because I’ve been lucky enough to travel pretty extensively in my life already. I want to go back to Greece at some point and see more of the country, but the Galapagos Islands are next on my wish list. I have wanted to go ever since my grandparents took a trip there many years ago. I would also really love to go back to Israel and explore it from a less touristy perspective. Birthright was amazing, but I would like to be able to spend more time in places and have a more authentic experience.

TW: How do you like to give back to the community / others?

RM: Teaching offers me a lot of opportunities in this arena, as I am able to encourage my students to create social action projects and participate in their community work. My sister-in-law Semonna and I are always seeking new ways to volunteer, and a particularly favorite project of ours is the National Council of Jewish Women Back 2 School Store (coming up August 7)! This event brings over 400 children from Detroit to a pop up store run by the NCJW volunteers where they get to pick out clothing for school, winter outerwear, school supplies, shoes, etc. It is an amazing day and my favorite project to be a part of. I now also run the GROW (girls reaching outward) program through NCJW. The group is designed to encourage high school girls to learn about advocacy and work for justice in areas impacting women, children and families.

TW: What's your favorite Jewish holiday and why? 

RM: My favorite holiday is Passover, except for when I am in the middle of Passover! I love the traditions behind it, and it was my grandma’s favorite holiday, so I think that passed to me a bit. This year I actually wrote a Haggadah for my family, using a variety of readings, commentary, and images to tell the traditional stories. I felt connected to the holiday as I was able to truly understand the story in a new way and have quality discussion around our table about the various elements of the Seder and the meaning behind them. 

TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?

RM: Thou shalt stand up for and with others and promote social justice wherever possible.

TW: How about a fun fact?

RM: I am a big Michigan football fan (GO BLUE!) and my family has a longstanding tailgate tradition before games. I tend to get a bit crazy about my Michigan football, and almost missed out on adopting my puppy Kona last summer because he was in a shelter in Ohio that was being managed by an OSU fan. Luckily, she didn’t see my UofM license plate before I signed the paperwork!

TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well...

RM: I am challenged to consider disparate points of view and connect with individuals whose ideas may differ from mine.