Judy Mishkin grew up in Swampscott. She is the daughter of Harriett and the late Ralph Kaplan, and has three sisters, Anne Selby, Roz Moore, and Susan Kaplan. She attended the University of Pennsylvania both for undergraduate and graduate school, has worked as a teacher in Malden and Lynn, and now tutors college-bound high school students. Judy served as a president of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead from 2007-09.
She is married to Bill Mishkin, and they have two children, David and Amy.
Tell us a little about growing up in the Kaplan family as one of four daughters of Ralph and Harriett?
As the youngest of four girls with only a five-year age span between my oldest sister and myself, the Kaplan household was clearly very busy. My mother was and continues to be very organized, keeping track very adeptly of our various schedules and activities. My dad partnered with her in raising us, especially at night and on Sundays. My parents instilled in all their children the core values of lifelong learning, a strong Jewish identity, and giving back to the community in a variety of ways. Two sisters and I pursued careers as educators, and one sister is a lawyer. I have lived on the North Shore my entire life and that is why this community and all its Jewish agencies are so central to who I am. Four generations of my family gather together for several Jewish holidays throughout the year, and we always include friends at these times. As the youngest generation in my family grows older, we have changed our Passover Haggadahs several times to reflect making our Seder appropriate for everyone.
What was your Jewish education like growing up?
My Jewish education began at Temple Israel in Swampscott, where I went to Hebrew School three days a week. It was a traditional education in many ways. I learned how to read and write Hebrew, and studied Jewish customs, rituals, and holidays. On Saturday mornings, I attended Shabbat services on a regular basis. After Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, my father took my sisters and me for a fun afternoon. One of my fondest places to go was Revere Beach, where we would go on the amusement park rides. My Jewish education continued as an adult. I enrolled in the Me’ah program a few years ago when it was offered on the North Shore. This in-depth, two-year program expanded my knowledge of Jewish studies. It was a great opportunity to learn and discuss a wide range of topics. Additionally, I have participated in many learning programs offered by the community, especially through Temple Emanu-El.
Your dad, Ralph Kaplan, was a legend in our community up until his passing in 2016. How was it growing up in his shadow?
My dad devoted an immeasurable amount of time to community service and charity work. He was passionate about helping the underserved and was involved in a variety of Jewish and other causes. I was extremely proud to introduce myself as ‘Ralph’s daughter.’ My father’s leadership in raising funds for Israel Bonds is well-known in this community and beyond. He was truly a master at getting great results from so many people toward his causes. I know that many people reading this article had been asked by my father on one occasion or many to contribute to some worthy organization or buy an Israel Bond.
People just couldn’t say no to him because they knew Ralph was so genuine and generous himself. He persevered in fund-raising pursuits more than anyone I have ever met. I also want to acknowledge and give credit to my mother for her own largesse and devotion to my father, attending so many functions by his side.
Hard work and giving to others is a theme in your family. How did your parents’ extraordinary example of caring for others, and the community at large, affect how you chose to live your life?
My sisters and I witnessed our parents’ compassion for others through their philanthropy and deep-rooted concern to better their local community and beyond. I attended many functions with them and strengthened my own Jewish identity by learning about the contributions to society that Jews and Jewish institutions have made. I have gone to Israel twice: the first time in my 20s with a group of educators and the second time in 2011 on an interfaith trip with members of Temple Emanu-El led by Rabbi David Meyer and The Old North Church in Marblehead led by Reverend Dennis Calhoun. It was a wonderful experience to visit Israel from both a Jewish and non-Jewish perspective.
You’re an educator. Please tell us about your professional life and why you continued in this career for so long, and how schools have changed in the past 30 years.
I chose a career in public education because I wanted to inspire others to learn and fulfill their academic, self-discovery, and career goals as I was inspired by many incredible teachers. Since I enjoy studying and speaking languages, I majored in English in college with a minor concentration in French and Spanish. My first job right out of graduate school was as an English teacher at Malden High School. I taught in Malden for five years, but Proposition 2½ cut my career short at that time. When I went back to teaching, I became a middle school French and Spanish teacher in Lynn. During my last 13 years in public education, I taught English at Lynn English High School. The biggest change in education, I believe, is the advancement in technology as it integrates with the foundations of teaching and learning. When I first started teaching in 1976, I wrote on a classroom chalkboard, then a white board, and most recently a smartboard connected to my computer. From a young age, all students now incorporate technology in their learning, which has broadened the scope of access and understanding of information along with opening up countless avenues of communication. Nevertheless, the influence of the classroom teacher remains vital to every student’s success. The focus of learning today is on collaborative, hands-on cooperative participation by students who are actively engaged with each other. The demographics in the communities where I taught have changed significantly in my career. I loved the diversity of my students; it was a pleasure to be in a classroom with students from all over the world. When I retired in the summer of 2020, it was bittersweet. My last class of students are now freshmen in college or have pursued careers outside of college. I still keep in touch with many former students and relish their accomplishments.
Your son and daughter both attended and graduated from Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel School). You have been committed to the school and served on the Hillel board for a few years. What does the school mean to you?
My family has had a long history of connections to Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel). My two children – David and Amy – went to Hillel from kindergarten through eighth grade. In addition to my own children, I have had several other members of my family of different generations attend the school. The vision of the school then and now aligns with my own about the role of education. Students are taught not only content material but also how to be upstanding citizens in their community, nationally, and even internationally. Hebrew and Jewish Studies are integrated into daily life at the school, so students have a comprehensive education about Judaism and secular studies. The devotion of the lay leadership is extraordinary. I helped out with many galas, and looked forward to the annual concerts, entertainers, and plays that serve as fund-raisers and community-building for the school.
What drew you to become a part of the Temple Emanu-El family and what has kept you so involved for so many years? From 2007-2009 you served as president of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead. How has that experience and commitment remained part of your life?
I was initially drawn to Temple Emanu-El because of its affiliation with the Reform movement and meeting Rabbi David Meyer. My husband Bill and I played co-ed softball in Marblehead for many years in the 1990s; David and his wife Marla were on the same team – and still play! From that association, I became more involved at the temple with fund-raising events, as editor of the monthly newsletter, and then as a member of the board of directors. My two-year presidency of the Temple from 2007-2009 was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had a great professional and lay-leader support system. The one “known” about this position was to “expect the unexpected.” Despite a recession in 2008, we remained a strong, vibrant congregation. A mission statement was created during my presidency, along with profound and candid discussions about how to foster personal relationship-building rather than a transactional relationship with members.
You now tutor high school students looking to enter college. Do you find this work as fulfilling as a classroom teacher?
Tutoring high school students one-on-one with SAT/ACT preparation and college essays has been very fulfilling for me. Standardized testing is one part of a student’s submission for colleges, and it can be a determining factor when colleges compare students from all over the world. I do find this kind of teaching just as rewarding as classroom teaching and feel so invested in each and every student. The choice of which college to attend is one of the most important decisions a student makes. Therefore, I want to ensure that the student’s application provides colleges with a true, comprehensive picture of what the student is like. I am thrilled when students tell me that they have been accepted to college!
You now work with your husband Bill, who runs Home Instead in Melrose, a company that provides in-home services to seniors. Tell us a little about that work.
With over 600 Home Instead offices in North America and another 400 internationally, the agencies allow older adults to remain independent in their homes. I work in the office in care management: staffing shifts, teaching an orientation class for our new care professionals, and a specialized class on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In many ways, this line of work correlates with my teaching career.,
What are some of your hobbies?
I try to pursue an active lifestyle. For over 35 years, I have been running with the same woman around Swampscott, Marblehead, and Salem. She and I recently traveled together to Spain and Portugal, a trip with other North Shore Jews coordinated by the Marblehead JCC that highlighted Jewish history and landmarks in these countries. In addition to running, I enjoy bike riding in the summer, skiing in the winter, and taking Zumba classes all year-round. I also love to spend time with my 3-year-old granddaughter and look forward to the birth of another grandchild very soon.