Rabbi Megan GoldMarche is just like many of the young Philadelphia Jews she hopes to serve as Tribe 12’s new executive director: She’s a Philly transplant with a love of craft beer.
But the similarities, of course, run deeper than that. GoldMarche, 37, like so many other Jewish millennials, has had to forge her own Jewish path, drawing from a patchwork of rituals, family history and lived experience. She developed a feminist seder for Shemini Atzeret and adopted new lines from the Torah to include in her lesbian wedding ceremony.
GoldMarche is interested in the second wave of coming-of-age that Jewish 20- and 30-somethings experience in college and beyond, when young Jews choose their own Jewish adventure. It’s what she believes makes her a good fit at Tribe 12.
“There’s something about the stage of life where you’re deciding who you want to be independent of your family,” GoldMarche said. “I just loved that in college, people for the first time were choosing to be Jewish and figuring out what it meant to be their own Jewish individual.”
GoldMarche’s Jewish journey at Tribe12 began on Feb. 1, and she moved with her wife Paige and two daughters to begin working full-time in Philadelphia on May 9. But it won’t be the first time GoldMarche has looked to the Jewish community for a warm welcome.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, GoldMarche was raised culturally, but not particularly religiously, Jewish.
When both her parents’ respective mothers died when GoldMarche was two, they looked to a local synagogue for support.
“The synagogue became sort of the center of my family’s life because my parents were so young — they were in their early 30s — and they both went through these major losses,” GoldMarche said. “The synagogue really ended up being what held them. And so I think I was raised with the sense that the Jewish community takes care of us.”
Though she attended synagogue services, Hebrew school and summer camp, becoming a rabbi wasn’t always in the cards for GoldMarche. Her family didn’t keep kosher; they didn’t associate with a strong denomination of Judaism.
GoldMarche planned on attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she could study psychology, expecting to one day get a doctorate in clinical psychology.
But as one of her first priorities on campus, GoldMarche joined Hillel, where she spent more time than in her own dorm room, she joked.
“I spent all my time at the Hillel,” she said. “I mean, Steinhardt Hall at Penn, which opened my sophomore year, was basically, like, the place I lived.”
At Hillel, GoldMarche found company with whom to explore the more halachic and ritual elements of Judaism she didn’t explore as a younger person: learning prayers and how to observe Shabbat and keep kosher. She was confident she could balance her evolving Jewish identity with a professional pursuit of psychology.
When GoldMarche graduated, she spent time as Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow at Yale University, and realized she’d rather spend time with Jewish young adults than pursuing a doctorate.
“I had this ‘aha moment’, the summer between my first and second year working for Hillel…Even though I had already become more religious, I hadn’t quite become spiritual yet,” GoldMarche said. “I had a very strong spiritual awakening, and also a realization that building community and helping young people find meaning through Judaism was really what I wanted to do.”
After a summer in Israel, GoldMarche matriculated at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where she became a rabbi, always intending to return to working with younger Jews. She moved back home to Chicago and started her family.
GoldMarche’s move back to the East Coast is an opportunity to once more find a smaller Jewish community and work to augment the bonds formed there.
Tribe 12 is particularly good at this because it creates “micro communities,” GoldMarche explains, such as providing opportunities for LGBTQ Jews to connect.
Prior to the pandemic, GoldMarche and her family held weekly Shabbat dinners with 30-50 guests. After a long period of isolation, it takes time to rebuild lost connections.
“A big part of what I hope we’ll do is help get people into those real relationships with people who will take care of them when things are hard, who will show up, maybe be lifelong friends, potentially partners…but really just helping people be less alone,” GoldMarche said.