From day school to life: Milwaukee Jewish Day School fostered identity | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

From day school to life: Milwaukee Jewish Day School fostered identity


Thinking back to his time in college, Derek Goodman remembers being the go-to source for his Jewish friends who needed some background on certain traditions.

“Derek, what are you supposed to do for Rosh Hashanah? Why do we celebrate Passover? What’s the connection to the Last Supper?”

Goodman, who attended the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, always had an answer for these questions.

“I really did value that I had a Jewish education. We lived Sunday school.”

Now a practicing attorney, Goodman, 31, lives on the East Side of Milwaukee with his wife and two dogs, and works with his father at the Law Offices of Jonathan Goodman. During the four years he’s worked with his father, Goodman has devoted his time to helping businesses that are struggling financially or in need of support.

“I really like helping business clients grow,” he said. “I like seeing the growth of my clients as I grow as an attorney.”

But Goodman hadn’t always been set on becoming an attorney. While attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he originally planned for a career as a doctor until later deciding that the field of medicine wasn’t for him. Still, Goodman’s decision to enter into law was really influenced by his education at MJDS.

“I like public speaking. I’m not shy and I think that probably came from when I was at the day school. I used to act in plays, musicals, things like that. That’s where it started and it stayed with me through high school, college, and into law school.”

After graduating in 2004 with bachelor’s degrees in American history and Spanish, Goodman then went on to the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he completed a juris doctor degree in 2011. Yet even with all of his achievements, he still underscores his MJDS experiences as setting the foundation for his success.

Describing himself as a kid with a big personality, Goodman remembers always being excited about talking and learning with others.

“I was kind of a crazy hyper kid and I was always talking. I never shut up. I still don’t,” he laughed.

He especially enjoyed anything related to politics, history, or civics, such as a World’s Fair event in which each grade spent two weeks learning about the culture and history of another country. He also recalls the classes he had with Rabbi Morgan, who no longer is with MJDS but is someone Goodman still stays in contact with, and who influenced Goodman’s thinking.

“I think the roots of my liberalism started there, along with my public engagement, public speaking, and my interest in history, and civics and political science for sure,” he said.

Goodman’s public life has been motivated by these experiences – he’s very involved in the Jewish community with organizations like the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services. But beyond influencing his career path, Goodman recognized how much his foundation at MJDS strengthened his own identity.

“I think I just grew up with a greater sense of Jewish identity. The way I learned in school and the things I learned from my parents and the general gist of Judaism in a lot of ways is to question the world around you, to test the limits, the understanding of social norms. I think that has largely formed who I am.”

This strong sense of identity is something that Goodman sees in himself, but also in others who attended MJDS.

“I think everyone came out with really solidly grounded values,” he said. “The vast majority of MJDS students have strong family values, community values that I think our society prizes and is struggling at this time to connect with.”

Ultimately, Goodman hopes to keep this sense of Jewish identity and community alive in his own personal life.

“As someone who’s thinking of starting his own family, I really value that background and that knowledge and those values that we learned,” he said.