Middle school is a unique time in a child’s development. It’s when children start to become more emotionally and socially aware and begin to think about their place in the world.
That’s according to Rabbi Mordechai Bennett, 30, who started a new job as middle school principal at Ohr Chadash Academy a few months ago. Before his current role, he worked as a fourth- and fifth-grade rebbe at the school. Though he is now a principal, he still teaches at the school by giving a Gemara shiur every morning.
At OCA, he is also the director of stay and play, their afterschool program, and during his summers he works for Jewish summer camps. He spent this past summer at Camp ASPIRE, a new program in Ohio.
Bennett is originally from Queens, N.Y. He has a bachelors in Talmudic law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a master’s in education from Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of Kol Torah and Congregation Shomrei Emunah, where he is also the teen minyan rabbi.
Bennett lives in Cheswolde with his wife, Hadassah, and their three children, Tila, 9, Libby, 4 and Sender, 1.
How did you end up in Baltimore?
When my wife and I got engaged, we were looking for a community that was outside of New York, a place where we both had friends, a place where I could continue my learning in yeshiva and my wife could have her own education opportunities, and Baltimore really fit that bill. We tell our friends that we wanted to be in a place where it was close enough to visit our families in New York but far enough that our parents couldn’t come unannounced.
What drew you to Ohr Chadash?
My master’s was in education, and I planned on becoming a rebbe. OCA seemed like a really nice … school, where there would be an opportunity to not only grow my own experience, but to really be able to have influence on its growth.
Is there anything unique about middle school versus other years of education?
For sure. This is [when] students really begin to understand their unique qualities and begin to think about their role in the world and how they plan on reaching the goals that they set for themselves. It’s also a time where they become more emotionally aware and socially aware about who their friends are, what their community is like and what they want that to be going forward. A lot of discoveries during these couple of years.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Being with the kids. They have so much to offer. It’s beautiful to be a part of their growth process, to be a part of their learning, to be a part of their journey to young Jewish adulthood.
Do you feel that starting your new position in the middle of a pandemic has made it more challenging?
In short, yes. The longer answer is I don’t get a frame of reference. I don’t know what being an administrator before COVID was like, so in a sense, it’s easier, because, to me, this is the norm. The way I’m looking at it is that it will get easier from here.
When you’re in the batter’s box, you have all those weights on your back so that when you’re actually up at bat, it’s lighter. I’m hoping that this year is just a heavy year, and please God, the pandemic should end and it can hopefully become a little bit of a lighter load.