February 25, 2020

Jonathan Zisblatt: Big wheel on campus

AGE: 18
HIGH SCHOOL: Valley Torah High School
GAP YEAR: Yeshivat Sha’alvim in Israel
GOING TO: University of Pennsylvania

By 7:45 a.m., when school begins at Valley Torah High School, Jonathan Zisblatt already has been at work for a half an hour.

Zisblatt, 18, known to his friends as Yoni, arrives early to study, one-on-one, with a rabbi. His goal is to study with every rabbi, nearly a dozen of them, at his Orthodox school before graduation.

More than a bookworm, Zisblatt has hobbies that include skateboarding with his friends across Los Angeles. Interested in preaching the gospel of skateboarding to his classmates, Zisblatt co-founded a skateboarding club at his school.

“I wanted to spread my passion for skating to other people. Many schoolmates who hadn’t previously skated learned to ride in our school’s parking lot,” he said. “The club is not a very intellectual club; we focused on being more hands-on with riding and demonstrations.”

After a tour of Loaded, a manufacturer of high-performance skateboards, Zisblatt began an internship with the company. His responsibilities included research and development, and he pitched an idea for a new shape for downhill wheels. His physics knowledge in the areas of friction, density and motion helped him thrive at the organization.

“It was an enjoyable and educational experience, where I learned about both business and skateboarding from the people I’ve been watching on YouTube since the seventh grade,” he said.

Skateboarding has taught him what it feels like to exercise control over a precarious situation, an important lesson for a young man about to enter the adult world.

“I am driven to skateboarding, like I am attracted to cars, for the feeling of control. I don’t feel it with other similar activities, such as bicycling or ATV-ing. On skateboards, I love the wind around me. If I tilt the board to the side, it turns in a controlled motion, like a well-weighted and programmed steering wheel,” he said. “Going down a hill nearing 40 miles per hour with nothing but protective gear and a board and still feeling in control is an unparalleled experience.” 

A packed schedule that has included Advanced Placement classes is only the beginning of Zisblatt’s responsibilities. He also has volunteered with ETTA, an organization serving people with special needs, and assisted the school’s general studies principal with construction, design and fundraising for a STEM (science, technology, enginerring and mathematics) lab.

At 6-foot-1, he played center on his school’s varsity basketball team, which this year placed fifth in the annual Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament at Yeshiva University, the country’s most prestigious tournament for Jewish high school teams.

Shabbat observant, Zisblatt brings a man in his 30s with special needs to Kehillat Yavneh, his family’s synagogue, for services every Saturday after walking the man from his house, which is around the corner from where Zisblatt lives.

In his free time, Zisblatt enjoys “Star Wars” and “Family Guy” and is an automobile enthusiast. He likes Infiniti car models, in particular. This summer, he plans to intern with a major online-only automobile resource company.

His other plans for the future include spending a gap year in Israel, studying at Yeshivat Sha’alvim, to improve his Hebrew skills. Afterward, he will attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he said he was attracted by the school’s strong Jewish community. He is considering studying economics and might one day think about starting a business.

“I always have ideas running through my head about different things I want to do or potentially try to improve on,” he said, “so if I eventually decide I want to start a company, I would consider doing it.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer