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Growing up in a small upstate New York town an hour from Buffalo, N.Y., Miriam Steinberg-Egeth keenly felt the isolation of being a Jew in a non-Jewish world. She yearned to be part of a community.
Now, the 31-year-old spends her professional life creating that community for the next generation.
As director of the Graduate Student Network of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, Steinberg-Egeth relies on an arsenal of tools both old and new, from Shabbat dinners to social media, to spread the message of Judaism’s rich tradition to 22 campuses in and around the city.
“It’s an amazing thing to have a job that’s incredibly rewarding and incredibly fun,” says Steinberg-Egeth, who, on any given day, is likely to be engaging students one-on-one over a cup of coffee or hosting a Topics on Tap discussion at Raven Lounge in Center City (recent topic: “The Myth of the Jewish Woman”).
She believes the future of the Jewish community she’s helping build rests on the ability of disparate factions and streams to unite under one roof.
“More and more, the Jewish community is going to be sustained through organizations like ours, that bring people together,” Steinberg-Egeth says, citing an alternative minyan she helped found as one example of fostering dynamic environments. An independent, egalitarian group of davenners, Minyan Tikvah rents space at the Ethical Society in Rittenhouse Square, opening its doors to worshipers of all ages.
You’ll hear the word “pluralism” early and often in a conversation with Steinberg-Egeth. It’s both mantra and management strategy.
Her graduate network partners with other area organizations such as the Collaborative, Tribe 12, the Federation’s Renaissance Group and the Lubavitch House at Penn. The collective aim is to bring together young adult Jews for social events, volunteer activities and religious programs.
“Our goal is to have students put down Jewish roots here,” Steinberg-Egeth says. “My hope is that when people outgrow the ‘happy hour’ scene, they’ll get involved with organizations that address substantive needs, such as working with the hungry and the homeless.”
The activist recently added two more status updates to her own life: She became the mother of Aliza Rachel, and she launched a blog. “Miriam’s Advice Well,” named for the legendary source of water that followed the biblical matriarch in the desert, is sponsored by the Jewish Exponent.