Interviewing Professor Gideon Schor: Ancient Greek 

Gianna Goldfarb ’25 

One of this year’s new teachers, Gideon Schor, is a Nazi-hunting, organized-crime-solving, mega-lawyer, think-tank-working, Ancient-Greek-speaking, archaeologist extraordinaire and probably the coolest person I have ever met. I had the privilege to speak to him about his life and why he has decided to teach the Ancient Greek mini course. Read the rest of this article to find out what I am embellishing in this intro. 

G.G: Where are you from?

G.S: I’m from a little town called Locust Valley. It’s on the north shore of Long Island, near Glen Cove and Oyster Bay.

G.G: Were you a good student in High School? What were your favorite and least favorite subjects? 

G.S: I got good grades, and I liked high school and every single subject. But that doesn’t mean I was a good student. I really didn’t know how to study, or how to read closely, or how to write. Those skills I didn’t learn until much later. So while I did well in high school, I can’t say for sure that I was a good student then. 

G.G: Why did you want to return to High School/Academia? Why become a teacher? 

G.S: I’ve always loved teaching. I taught in a law school for six years and loved every minute of it. The classroom is really energizing, especially when students ask probing questions and give thoughtful answers.

G.G:  Why are you passionate about Ancient Greek? When did you become interested in it?

G.S: I love words and etymologies. So, for me, the Greek language is endlessly fun to study, since so many of our English words come from Greek.

The Greek texts themselves are astonishing. The Ancient Greeks may have been technologically primitive, but they were intellectually quite advanced. Their articulation of social, political, and psychological problems is spot-on, to this day. 

When I was four, my mother read me Greek myths; they captivated me. Then, in freshman year of college, I studied Homeric poetry with Robert Fitzgerald, who had published a fabulous translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey. His description of the Greek language, and of the challenges of translation, inspired me to learn Ancient Greek.  

G.G: What did you study in college? 

G.S: I did a double major in Classics and History. Classics is the name for the study of Greek and Latin literature. I specialized in Greek literature and ancient history.

G.G: How did you learn Ancient Greek?

G.S: After my freshman year of college, I took a summer class in Ancient Greek at the City University of New York. The class was a “total immersion” program: We learned a year’s worth of Ancient Greek in six weeks. I don’t like to admit it, but my classmates and I spent 12 hours a day learning Greek grammar and vocabulary. I realize that’s not everyone’s idea of a good time.  But by mid-July, we were reading Homer and Plato in the original Greek. 

I’m not the only member of the Upper School faculty who graduated from that program. So did Dr. Tugendhaft.

G.G: Do you have any special talents or hobbies? Any fun facts? 

G.S: I’m a collector, but what I collect is unusual: Greek words in Jewish texts. And for the past 15 years, I’ve spent an hour every morning comparing the Hebrew of the Chumash to the Aramaic of the targumim and to the Greek of the Septuagint, which is the Ancient Greek translation of the Bible. I’m just fascinated by the interaction between Greek and Jewish culture. The ancient world—in which Jews inevitably interacted with Greek culture—reminds me of today’s New York, where Jews inevitably interact with secular American culture.

If that doesn’t qualify as a “fun fact,” then how about this:  My wife, Shara Lipson, is the head of admissions at Ramaz’s Upper School and helped decide which of The Rampage’s readers (and writers) would enter Ramaz. She also introduced me to Dr. Tugendhaft, who helped create the Ancient Greek class.

G.G: Where did you work before Ramaz? 

G.S: Back in the 1980s, I was an archeologist and living in Greece. But I was always interested in the law, so I went to law school and had several legal jobs. First, while working for the U.S. Justice Department, I fought organized crime and hunted Nazis. Later, I worked in a silicon valley law firm, where I represented Facebook and Google. Now I work for a “think tank” that tries to understand why health care, and especially medication, is so expensive in America and how the cost can be reduced.

G.G: Do you have a favorite book or movie? 

G.S: I have a favorite theme:  why people and minds wander. So my favorite books range from Homer’s Odyssey and Kerouac’s On the Road to Joyce’s Ulysses.

G.G: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

G.S: I go to the beach every chance I can get, even in winter. I also love hiking with my daughter Sandy, who is a seventh-grader at Ramaz. And I really enjoy studying Chumash and the less well-known targumim, like Targum Yonatan and Targum Neofiti.

G.G: What advice do you have for kids who are interested in learning Ancient Greek? 

G.S: Two points: (1) The hardest part is the alphabet! If you strip away the funny-looking script, you’ll see that many Greek words are directly related to words we use in English every day. (2) Look for patterns! The grammar isn’t just a bunch of random rules; it’s a beautiful system with an internal logic. 

G.G: What Ancient Greek text is your favorite to read and interpret? Which is your favorite to teach?

G.S: At the top of my list are Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, also known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King. But my all-time favorite at this point is the Septuagint. Since I love these three, I love teaching them as well.

G.G: Did you ever live in Greece?

G.S: Yes, I spent two big chunks of time in Greece. First, as a travel writer for the Let’s Go guidebooks, I spent months in southern Greece and Greek islands. Later, as an archeologist, I spent a year at the American school of archeology in Athens. During that year, I traveled all over Greece and excavated in Ancient Corinth.

G.G: Where do you work now? What is your main profession? 

G.S: I’m a lawyer by profession. I was in the courtroom for thirty years, but now work for the Center for Innovation at Hastings Law School, which is part of the University of California. 

G.G: Is there anything you would like students to know about you?

G.S: If you want to discuss anything—from Greek, to homework, to college, to the meaning of life—I’m available 24/6.