“It’s about continuity with prior generations and future generations. I believe that following Jewish practice also makes us better as human beings,” says Dan Mendelson, former president of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
For Mendelson, taking care of the school and supporting Jewish education is in his blood. “My family has been involved with the school since its inception. My great-uncle, Joseph Mendelson, was one of the founders of the school. One of my earliest memories was walking into the kitchen and seeing him writing checks. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was paying the teachers at the school,” Mendelson says.
Mendelson, 58, later attended the school. He was school president from 2016 to 2019 and stayed on to help advise the board through the pandemic using his public health background. He is currently the CEO of Morgan Health at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Mendelson says he loves Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in part because of his family’s history with the school but also for what he feels the school does for the Jewish community.
“For me, JDS is about ensuring an educated Jewish future, creating a positive, nurturing environment for the kids and their parents so they can learn.”
The day school is pluralistic, something Mendelson, a member of Adas Israel Congregation, says helps bring the Jewish community together. “That’s not always an easy thing to do, but it is an important thing to do. Having that diversity makes the place special.”
During his time as president, Mendelson said his main focus was to strengthen the school, and he worked to do that through many avenues.
“I was creating and maintaining a positive culture on the board for the head of school, making sure that there were really good people on the board to carry the school into the future. It was about going out and recruiting, you need financial skills, you need government skills. It’s important to create an environment with diverse skillsets,” Mendelson says.
According to Mendelson, a good board president is first and foremost collaborative and he couldn’t have accomplished everything he did as president alone.
“It was a good board and I was fortunate to have great colleagues,” Mendelson says. For him, ensuring the health of the board and by extension the school meas ensuring a strong and vibrant Jewish future.
“Judaism gives us a framework to be good human beings. It provides guidance in many aspects, about living and about business. A good path, if you will. I’ve never been a literalist but I take Jewish practice seriously and on my own terms. I’m not a strict traditionalist but I have a deep respect for those who are,” he says.
Mendelson’s deep ties to the school aren’t limited to past generations; they include the future as well. When he married his wife, Jen Mendelson, there was no question about where or whether their children would attend JDS. His three daughters, Claire, Elaina and Dora, are all graduates of the school.
Having strong role models within the community is important in inspiring the next generation to lead, he says. Mendelson he credits his parents with helping to guide him into the man he is today.
“My parents are wonderful role models, my mother was the first woman to read Torah at Adas Israel synagogue,” Mendelson said of his mother, Adina Mendelson.
Today, Dan Mendelson continues to serve the school and Jewish community through volunteer service alongside his wife. He also continues to serve the public at large through his roles on the boards of Partners in Primary Care, Champions Oncology, Centrexion, Audacious Inquiry, the Alliance for Health Policy and the Strategic Advisory Committee for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. ■