A Passion for Jewish Education and the Jewish People: Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus. Photo courtesy of CESJDS

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus has spent his entire 23-year professional career in the world of Jewish education, serving as head of school at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville for the last 11 years after working at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles for 12 years.

Initially, Malkus intended to study law after he finished his undergraduate studies at Columbia University, but some of the work that he did with students while at the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C., and during previous trips he’d led at Camp Ramah made Malkus realize that he had a different passion.

“My interest in education really started at Camp Ramah. I eventually led summer teen trips to both Israel and Eastern Europe for the Ramah camps in Israel. And that’s how I got really excited about that work … Some of the work that I did at Camp Ramah really led me to pursue a career in Jewish education,” Malkus said.

Malkus then went to the Jewish Theological Seminary for his master’s degree in Judaic Studies, rabbinical ordination and a Doctor of Education, setting him on the path that brought him to CESJDS.

Now, after more than a decade at the school, Malkus has observed many changes in the way Jewish education is run and the impact it has on students, beginning with more hands-on experience with Jewish organizations and Israel.

“More broadly in Jewish education, Jewish summer camps and trips to Israel have really proliferated,” Malkus said.

Malkus noted how Jewish education can have a significant impact on Jewish kids as they grow up and move into the professional world, and the ability to have that meaningful effect on students is part of the reason why he’s so passionate about being a Jewish educator.

“I’m interested particularly in formal Jewish education in day schools, although I have a background in informal education as well, both in camps and Israel programs. And a lot of the research indicates that those three areas have the most impact on students and their future engagement in Jewish life. And that’s why I’ve invested my time and spent my career in Jewish day schools.”

And Malkus is proud to be a part of shaping that future Jewish communal engagement and he said it’s something that he considers to be vital for the future of a thriving Jewish community, where those former CESJDS students are going to assume important positions.

“One of the things we know from studies of Jewish day schools and the Jewish community in general is that Jewish day school graduates, or those who have attended Jewish day school for six or more years, are more likely to take on leadership roles in the Jewish community, volunteer roles, but also professional roles as well,” Malkus said.

Jewish education has also been especially important in a post-Oct. 7 world, at a time when the students need support and programs designed to further educate them on issues as they arise and to help them process the impact of the tragic events.

Malkus added that the school has been bringing in speakers dedicated to teaching the students about antisemitism in response to the surge that we’ve seen around the world after the attacks.

“It’s [Oct. 7] something that we are thinking about every day inside the school. There are many more speakers coming into the school, more projects involved in connecting with Israel, letter writing campaigns to soldiers serving in the IDF, more programs where we’re trying to understand what’s currently happening in Israel and trying to foster discussion within the school about how students are feeling, how they’re reacting, what they need to learn to better understand what’s happening in Israel.”

Malkus was also lucky to get the opportunity to have his children go to the school that he worked at, something that he thinks back on fondly as his twin boys have since graduated and are off at college.

He said that having them at the school fulfilled his wish of having his kids get a Jewish day school education and it gave him a unique perspective on the parent-administrator-student connection.

“It [having two children at the school] tied me emotionally more to the experience that they were having and to our school, and I felt that I actually gained an incredible appreciation both as a professional at the school, but also as a parent at the school, for the incredible education and experiences that our students are getting,” Malkus said.

Despite no longer having that deeply personal connection to the school as a parent of current CESJDS students, Malkus is excited to continue serving the local Jewish community and provide a pillar of excellence and stability rooted in his deep passion to see the success of the Jewish people.

“This is my professional career. I am passionate about the Jewish people and really passionate about the diversity that exists in the Jewish community. And so being able to put my passion to work every day professionally is really a joy … I love the Jewish people. I’m really dedicated to making sure that Judaism and the Jewish people thrive globally. And being able to do that every day, I feel very lucky,” Malkus said.

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