As you can tell by the name, YULA Yeshiva is a Jewish high school. Like many religious schools, it upholds particular values. In this current era, where there is little value and much harm coming from public education, YULA stands in stark contrast.
From their mission statement:
YULA is a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva High School, dedicated to cultivating an unwavering commitment to Halacha, Torah values, outstanding academic achievement, and exemplary moral conduct.
The quality of that mission is reflected in this specific act of kindness toward a math teacher orchestrated by YULA’s students.
It is the subject of this week’s Feel-Good Friday.
@yulaboys an all boys Yeshiva high school in Los Angeles math teacher Julio Castro was waking up at 4am and returning home after 930pm to teach in YULA. He had to take a bus and a scooter to work.
So the students raised $30,000 and bought their math teacher a Mazda 3 Hatchback. pic.twitter.com/A6ApIn1NZV
— Meaningful Minute (@MeaningfulMin) August 28, 2022
From The Los Angeles Times:
Math teacher Julio Castro thought he was late to the party when he walked in near the end of a faculty-appreciation assembly at YULA Boys High School. He wished he could have dropped his name into the raffle box.
But the entire event was a charade set up to honor him by surprise — beginning with video testimonials, a procession through confetti cannons and a tunnel of students with arms stretched overhead. And the finale: The gift of a certified pre-owned Mazda 3 hatchback to ease the tortuous commute of a beloved teacher.
Castro lives in the Santa Clarita Valley and commutes about four hours a day by scooter and bus to get to the Westside school, because he does not have a car. He typically wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and returns home as late at 9:30 p.m., when his three young children are already asleep.
I lived for 10 years in Los Angeles without a car, so I can relate to Julio Castro’s pain. For four of those months, I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley (I still call it “the back of beyond”), so I probably took some of those same buses.
It is not for the faint of heart.
Many people in the comments of the above tweet wanted to make it about “living wage,” and how we “don’t pay teachers enough,” but there are a multitude of reasons why Castro may not have had a car. Unlike me, Castro has children—three of them! From the parents that I know, the children’s well-being always supersedes your own.
At that time, I made good money working for law firms, but I still couldn’t scrape together enough to afford a good, working vehicle.
But the whys are irrelevant. What is relevant is that Castro has a work ethic and was committed to getting to his job on time, in order to instill those Yula values into his students through the instruction of math. The students knew about his plight, but not because Castro whined about it or played the victim.
“I made the best out of it,” he said. “I always told them: When life doesn’t go your way, what do you do? Don’t cry about it. Don’t whine about it. Just be grateful for what you already have, and then move on. And one day some good things will happen.
“And that’s proof,” he said, marveling at the dark blue 2019 Mazda with its 2.4-liter engine, inline front-wheel drive, leather seats, Bose stereo, sunroof and only 30,000 miles.
What a quality find, especially in a time when even pre-owned vehicles are at a premium. The students also raised enough to pay for Castro’s gas and car insurance for a year.
Good job, YULA boys!
Rabbi Arye Sufrin, head of the school, said the effort “is really about gratitude. This is about having our students appreciate the sacrifice that our teachers and Mr. Castro, in particular, will do to ensure that they can maximize their potential and be the best version of themselves.”
The fact that Castro embodied the best version of himself to his students on a daily basis, despite his difficult commute, is a testament to his students on what perseverance and an attitude of gratitude can accomplish.
Castro tried to make good use of the bus time — by napping or grading papers. So the switch to sitting behind the wheel in gridlocked traffic might not always feel like an upgrade every morning.
When I commuted by bus, I used to do the same. I got a whole lot of reading and writing done on those long commutes. But like Castro, when the blessing of my own car opened for me, I adjusted and embraced it, as well as the new opportunities that opened up as a result. Castro can now take his own children to school and spend more time with them; a value-added gift for his entire family.
Another lesson embodied by Castro is that convenience is not always the goal—being a part of a community that loves and accepts you, and embracing your calling, is.
But the journey has been worth it, he said, enough so that he turned down a teaching job closer to home.
YULA “opened the doors for me, they accepted me as a family member,” he said. “And you can’t buy that. I want to be here.”
These young men are fortunate to have a teacher like Julio Castro, and Julio Castro is fortunate to have students who stepped up in such a way on his behalf.
Gratitude comes full circle. I am confident Julio Castro and these young boys have embodied the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero:
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”