Professional writer and editor Abbie Kozolchyk credits her sixth- and seventh-grade attendance at Tucson Hebrew Academy as the most formative of her school years, fostering both her Jewish identity and her love of language.
Growing up in a Jewish family provided a firm foundation in Jewish tradition, including membership at Anshei Israel, Camp Ramah, a chavurah and weekly Shabbat dinners. A family friend, longtime Jewish Community Foundation director Carol Karsch, had encouraged Kozolchyk’s parents to enroll their daughter at THA. Paradoxically, says Kozolchyk, “It was the strength of THA’s secular education that convinced them.”
The tipping point occurred during a fifth grade class at her public school, when her teacher wrongly defined a key word, overriding Kozolchyk’s polite attempts to differ. “The next thing I knew, I was THA-bound,” she says.
THA’s small class sizes, along with Shabbatons in the mountains, created a sense of “togetherness” — “plus bar mitzvahs and house parties that seemed to crop up every weekend.”
“I’ve often said, only half-jokingly, that I peaked intellectually the year I switched into THA,” says Kozolchyk. “Jan Lipartito, who taught literature and social studies, was one of the greatest possible gifts to my (or any) young brain. The first term paper I wrote for her was on the comparative roles of fate and accident in ‘Romeo and Juliet’” — the kind of project her friends in public school “wouldn’t have even begun to think about until late in high school.” Along with tackling advanced concepts, Kozolchyk also relished learning minutia such as the use of footnotes.
Kozolchyk did have some work to do in Judaic studies and Hebrew to catch up to students who’d been at THA for years. But, says Kozolchyk, “Once I started to grasp the binyanim [the elements of Hebrew verb construction], conjugation became one of my favorite pastimes — yes, I’m weird! THA underscored the boundlessness of Jewish learning. You can spend literally half your day, every day, on Judaic studies and still barely scratch the surface.”
Entranced by language and its structure, she later graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, Mass. — and began a career that has allowed her to pursue her lifelong passion for the written word.
She first worked at Mirabella magazine, then moved on to jobs at Glamour, Redbook and Fitness. After many years working as a freelance writer, she joined the staff of Rachael Ray Every Day magazine, until early this year, when she accepted an assignment from National Geographic to write a book about the world’s most romantic destinations, for publication in January 2017.
Research for the book has taken Kozolchyk “everywhere from the Caribbean to Kyoto.” The AJP caught up with her on her return from Montenegro and the Balkans.
“I enjoy the topic,” she says, “because who doesn’t enjoy romantic travel?” But for a THA alumna with strong Jewish community roots, it can be a surprisingly small world, as she discovered while researching romantic spots in South Africa.
“I was Victoria Falls-bound during Passover,” says Kozolchyk. Seeking a community seder to join, she randomly chose one in Durban. “I wound up sitting directly across from a woman I knew and hadn’t seen in years. I quickly figured out that there were maybe one or two degrees of separation between me and pretty much everyone at the table. For example, the rabbi and rebbetzin leading the seder knew Rabbi Billy [Lewkowicz] and his family!”
Kaye Patchett is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.