Teaching the Teacher
While bombs fall, educator learns about faith
by Kelly Knufken

Donald De Angelo ’95 stands at the top of the Massada, a national shrine to Israelis.

photo Courtesy of Donald De Angelo

Touring Israel was supposed to help Donald De Angelo gain a greater appreciation of Judaism. But it also helped him make a deeper connection with his own Catholic faith. De Angelo and a few dozen other Catholic teachers from around the country left for Israel in mid-July, arriving just in time for the outbreak of war with Lebanon. The group was participating in the Anti-Defamation League’s “Bearing Witness” program, aimed at bringing lessons about the holocaust and anti-Semitism into classrooms. The impact of their trip was immediate.

“Everything there had meaning — spiritual, historical — it was very intense the whole time. Your faith really comes alive when they say, ‘Jesus stood right over there.’” De Angelo still marvels at the experience.

As the group toured Golan Heights, they heard a reverberating boom. The fighting had begun in Lebanon. Later, the bombs dropped in Israel. The group arrived in Tiberius just an hour after a bombing. They also got a glimpse of the life-goes-on attitude of Israelis when they could see smoke from the clash while people continued to water-ski on the Sea of Galilee. “There’s something in your head that says, ‘Those are bombs falling,’” he says. “But the tour guide kept going, so something in you says, ‘I guess there’s nothing wrong.’ It was very surreal.”

He’s careful to say he doesn’t hold Israel blameless for all its actions. Still, “You stand in one spot and see Syria and Lebanon — both places hostile to Jews — and Palestinians live within their borders, and you see they’re cornered. You can definitely begin to appreciate what they must go through every single day just to survive.”

The tour took the group to religious sites in Israel; at each there would be a Bible reading. “We had a priest and a rabbi with us the whole time — it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke,” he quips. The priest would give the traditional Catholic interpretation, and the rabbi would talk about what life was like for a 1st-century Jew. “It was just amazing. It makes you look at the text so differently.”

In his day-to-day life, De Angelo teaches history at Cathedral Catholic High School, the gleaming campus in San Diego’s North City that replaced the old University High School across from USD. De Angelo’s shaved head and soul patch, coupled with his self-described “biting sense of humor” prove that he’s not your stereotypical history teacher, as does his banter with students.

He received a master’s in international relations at USD in 1995 after being laid off as a marketing operations specialist at Chase Manhattan Bank. When he began teaching at Uni more than 11 years ago, he didn’t know if it would turn out to be a realistic career choice for him. “Then you have those moments when kids respond,” he says. “They send e-mails from college about how much of a difference I made.”

The Israel trip left an indelible mark on De Angelo, who plans to now help students make connections. Since returning, he put together a lesson to help the drama club really understand the “Diary of Anne Frank” by showing them that the characters were real, three-dimensional people, not just words in a book.

“I noticed kids tearing up. The room got very quiet. I realized, ‘This is something I can do.’ I can make an awareness of this horrific experience, which is such pivotal moment in history. I can help them understand and complete the Jewish experience.”