Rabbi Matthew Ponak

Grade 9 Class of 2000

In 2020, Matthew Ponak was ordained as a rabbi. He lives in Victoria, BC where he is an author, a spiritual counsellor, and a teacher of Jewish mysticism—both online and in-person. His first book, Embodied Kabbalah: Jewish Mysticism for All People will be published on December 15, 2022.

Matthew’s first experience of true community was at the CJA. Although his higher education later took him to Boulder, Colorado, Boston, and Israel — his appreciation for his first school only grew overtime. It is something very special, he has realized, that all of the people in his grade growing up felt like family. To this day, if he sees someone from that time who has not seen in years, it’s like reconnecting with a sibling and they can pick up right where they left off. That gift of connectedness he encountered in his years at the CJA has helped guide and inspire his life’s work ever since. The strong academic foundations in his education—both Alberta and Judaic curriculum—also gave him a big head start for when he entered university, graduate school, and rabbinical school. As well, the diligent striving and effort that was cultivated in the competitive athletics program in Junior High gave him his first taste of the invaluable impact of regular exercise and a communicative, reliable team.

Matthew is married and has two lovely children ages 8 and 3. He strives to pass on the values of integrity, kindness, and work-ethic which he learned growing up at the CJA. Looking back on years of Jewish life, the Judaics curriculum at the CJA was an early example of openness and pluralism. Though Matthew grew up Conservative, he has since explored all the denominations and found a life of practice and teaching which combines aspects of each. His classes and counselling are intentionally open to people of any background. Many of the people he works with are spiritual seekers who have in some way felt alienated from the community, wisdom, or practice of Judaism. With both his children and his students, he strives to pass on the very high bar of inclusion and belonging which he first learned within the warm and embracing halls of the Calgary Jewish Academy.