Jewish Journal

Leadership, Debate and Giving Back

Ryan Ofman, 18
High School: de Toledo High School
Going To: Yale University

Taking 10 advanced-placement classes, serving as student council president and captain of the Speech & Debate team, participating in special interest clubs and school and community events, and playing on the varsity tennis team might be too much activity for some people to handle. Ryan Ofman is not one of those people.

“I’ve always loved keeping busy, doing as many things as I possibly can. That’s when my brain is the most satisfied,” the National Honor Society member told the Journal. He rattled off a diverse set of passions including physics, philosophy, astronomy, computer programming and coding, and reading and writing poetry. He co-runs the chess club, contributes to his school’s literary magazine, and tutors fellow students. With Sherut L’Olam, a Jewish youth leadership organization, he has distributed food to the needy and planted trees in fire-affected Topanga Canyon.

“When I was young, I loved doing jigsaw puzzles. I did my first 500-piece puzzle when I was 8,” Ofman said. “It was intensely difficult, but I pushed through. I feel the same way about academics. I love smashing down walls because I know I’m going to come out on the other side that much stronger.”

As student council president, Ofman recently succeeded in getting tampon dispensers installed in the school bathrooms, but is quick to credit his fellow students for the idea. He attributes his success in student government to “Speech & Debate teaching me that what I say and how I say it matters,” he said. “I think we have a bit of a tendency to be overly defensive and not listen to opposition. Having to debate both sides of an issue has changed my ability to look at anything, whether it’s an argument with my sister or a huge political event.”

“I love smashing down walls because I know I’m going to come out on the other side that much stronger.”

Now living on Los Angeles’ Westside, Ofman grew up in Calabasas with his parents, Josh and Julie, older brother Jason, now a Rice University student, and twin sister, Lauren, who plans to enter George Washington University this fall as a journalism major. 

He had his bar mitzvah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and recently went to Israel with March of the Living. “It’s an amazing place, a flawed place. But you love Israel because you love what Israel means to the Jewish people,” he said.

Ofman described himself as “not very observant. But I feel unbelievably connected to the Jewish community. That’s what it’s about for me,” he said. “I think my love for academia and my thirst for knowledge stems from Jewish culture and asking questions, thinking more deeply about things. The incredible rabbis I’ve had, the members of my community and my grandparents have been my symbols of Judaism, rather than God. I’ve never needed a divine force.”

Ofman toured several colleges but chose Yale after attending a particularly engaging philosophy lecture and discovering that the university offered a combined major in philosophy and physics. 

After a trip to the National Speech & Debate Association’s national tournament in June, Ofman will spend the summer working as a camp counselor and robotics specialist at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley.