You do impact people, says Zac Williams | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

You do impact people, says Zac Williams

Zac Williams has always been drawn to education. Originally from the South suburbs of Chicago, Williams always found himself wanting to help other children, he said it “always came naturally.” He also loves the schedule, working during the school year and outside during the summer. He loves living in a city where he is never very far from a park, for a walk, for hiking, or for kayaking.  

He has been teaching for five years and spent the last two at Yeshiva Elementary School. He primarily teaches English to the middle school boys, but also teaches science to some lower elementary school students. 

Williams grew up in a Catholic family in a heterogeneous community. His parents always told him people are just people and should be respected. Williams said that his childhood “left me curious about different cultures.” He added that “coming to YES, not knowing about Judaism, was really thrilling.” Williams admires the purity of the West Side community, the pure focus on religiosity and piety. “I had to learn new things. I approached it from a place of respect and wanting to know more. I was actively interested. Anything I can know about the culture that will help me interact better in the school, that will allow me to be a better teacher for them. If that means I have to learn a little Yiddish, to schmooze with them, to give a spiel, to have a little shmear, I’m good with that.” 

When asked what he loves about teaching, Williams said he was surprised to learn that “you do impact children, young adults, people who are unsure about their lives. On the derech (path), off the derech (path), in whatever way that may be. It could be just a gentle nod of encouragement. I never thought about the relationships I had with a teacher until I became one.”  

Two high school history teachers inspired Williams: Matthew Cherry and Jacob Gourly. They were both social studies teachers. Cherry was a good teacher, very laid back, Williams modeled himself after this calm demeanor. Gourly had a wealth of content knowledge and had them use small groups or partners to work through information. Williams, who participated in the BINAH professional development program through Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning, now sees Gourly’s approach as chevruta study, a Jewish tradition of study text in pairs. (If you are a teacher interested in joining the 5th cohort of BINAH, starting in the fall, contact Tziporah Altman-Shafer at 

William’s favorite Jewish food is cholent. He wishes they served it more than just on Fridays. When he is not in the classroom, you will often find him with his girlfriend Allison doing historical reenactment. He loves diving into history in a hands-on way. 

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The Coalition for Jewish Learning of Milwaukee Jewish Federation is celebrating local educators with this regular feature. To suggest someone for coverage, contact Jewish Education Community Planner Tziporah Altman-Shafer, at