You Should Know …Mia Kaufman

Mia Kaufman. Photo Courtesy.

Mia Kaufman has been closely involved with the Maryland Jewish community her entire life, with a strong Jewish upbringing in Baltimore County and serving as president of the Jewish Student Union at the University of Maryland.

Now, after graduating in 2020 with a degree in special education, Kaufman works as a special education teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools and maintains that Jewish connection through her work as the young children engagement specialist at Congregation Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase.

Can you tell me about your two educational roles?

I teach elementary school for Montgomery County Public Schools. I do special ed for grades kindergarten through second, and I’ve been doing it for four years. I just started with Ohr Kodesh this year. And I was really involved with youth programs in my synagogue growing up. I think that’s an important connection, being able to be involved with more informal Jewish programming as a kid. That’s why I got involved with Ohr Kodesh. I had previously taught in the Hebrew School there during COVID. That was how I had known people that worked at Ohr Kodesh previously. We do a lot of more informal programming, and I really enjoy working with Jewish kids in a fun and more informal setting.

How did you realize you were interested in working with kids and special education?

In high school, I volunteered in a special education class at my Hebrew School at my synagogue. And that kind of got me involved and interested in pursuing this path. And then I went to the University of Maryland and studied special ed there.

What are some of your responsibilities at Ohr Kodesh?

I plan about two programs a month for a kindergarten to second grade program and a third to fifth grade program. We did one pajama Havdalah for the preschool and their families, but we do a lot of Havdalah and movie nights. We’re going to have a chocolate seder coming up for kindergarten to second grade. So, it’s a lot. Some programs have a big Jewish aspect to them. For example, the chocolate seder is fully around Passover and going through the steps of the seder, but we also do have programs that I think are really just about the kids having fun with their friends from school or from synagogue.

How did you maintain that Jewish connection through college?

In college, I was really involved with the Jewish Student Union. That’s really where I met a lot of my closest friends in college. And then, throughout college, I worked in the summer as staff of the United Synagogue Youth summer program … I think it’s just really important to me to have a connection to the Jewish community. I know when I started college, I definitely felt that need for community, whether it was Jewish or not, and I think that it [Jewish communal involvement] was easy and it made the most sense for me. I was most comfortable when I got involved with Jewish things. So, I just kind of naturally gravitated toward the Jewish community for making friends and participating in programs and
leadership opportunities.

What Jewish areas were you involved in and how has it helped you after graduating?

As I noted, I was really involved with Hillel and the Jewish Student Union. I think it feels like home, so it’s easier to kind of make those connections and get involved. And then, as I left college, since I graduated during the pandemic, I wasn’t really involved with so many Jewish things immediately after college, as I was trying to focus on my career and my next life steps. Initially, I wasn’t really involved with so much Jewishly, and then I was teaching Hebrew School on the side. Once I moved to D.C., I started reconnecting with some college friends and we’ll do Shabbat dinner together from time to time, and I would say that’s my one of my bigger Jewish connections, post-college. My boyfriend and I did join Adas Israel for the High Holidays, but we’re not so involved otherwise. But I think it’s just been helpful to have that community because post-graduation it’s kind of hard to meet people and make friends. Having the Jewish community and meeting people through that has been
really helpful.

What have you gotten out of working with Ohr Kodesh and MCPS?

I really enjoyed making the relationships in school with the students and their families and building that relationship, and then also similarly with Ohr Kodesh, getting to know the kids that come a lot and their families and then also the ones that don’t come as much has been great.

How does your Jewish identity impact you daily?

I think it’s been pretty helpful for meeting people with similar values … A big part of my Jewish identity is the connection to other Jewish communities around the world. I am an avid traveler and I intentionally look into the synagogues and the Jewish community in new cities before I visit. I find the connection to the Greater Jewish community comforting and important when I am away from my own community. Some of the most memorable Kabbalat Shabbat experiences I’ve had have been surrounded by very welcoming strangers, bound by our shared Jewish traditions. Most recently, I have visited active and historical synagogues and museums in Mexico City, Thessaloniki, Athens
and Lisbon.

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