Carolyn Gerecht believes that it may have been random as to why she ended up in Pittsburgh a decade ago. But since her arrival, say those who know her, the Jewish educator has done nothing other than deliver rational, reasonable and pragmatic opportunities for Jewish teenagers in the Steel City.
Gerecht, director of Teen Engagement and Experiences at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, recently announced that she will be leaving her post and the city this summer to pursue graduate studies and further instruction in public administration and nonprofit management. She will move to somewhere on the East Coast.
“We, the Jewish community at large, have been blessed; we continue to be blessed; and, we will be blessed in the future thanks to Carolyn,” said Rabbi Ron Symons, Gerecht’s supervisor at the JCC. “Yes, I am sad that she will no longer be guiding our community, but given what she has done already, can you imagine how fortunate the Jewish community will be when she has deeper training and insight?”
Hailing from Ashton, Md., Gerecht came here 10 years ago to attend the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was interested in studying Spanish,” she said. Pitt “had a great Spanish program, it was a good distance from home and [had] a strong Hillel.”
But, as she admitted, the decision to come to Pittsburgh was still “somewhat arbitrary.”
Nonetheless, when Gerecht graduated in 2010, she took a full-time job as the youth director at Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
“It was a privilege,” Gerecht said of her tenure, which included part-time work during her senior year of college.
“For a first full-time job I was very lucky to have very strong mentors there,” she added, naming both Stefi Kirschner and Judith Kadosh, who had acted as congregational lay leaders. “They were just a huge support system for me in the early stages of my career.”
Gerecht discovered that her experiences as a youth leader made her “passionate about working with Jewish teens.”
It also enriched her personal life.
“I didn’t grow up in a traditional Jewish household, and those were some of my first experiences attending more traditional Shabbat services and doing textual study,” she said. Partaking in those opportunities with Jewish teens “who were so engaged made me want to learn more.”
When the opportunity arose, Gerecht grabbed it. Three years after joining Beth Shalom as its full-time youth director, Gerecht went to Israel with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
While studying at Pardes, Gerecht explored Jewish texts and literature.
“It gave me a really good base,” she said.
During her 10 months abroad, Gerecht also participated in a part-time certificate program through Yeshiva University dedicated to experiential education. That enabled her to develop “techniques, practice and educational skills,” she said.
In 2014, Gerecht returned to Pittsburgh as part of an agreement in which she would serve the community for two years in exchange for the support it provided while she was in Israel.
Leaders determined that Gerecht’s talents could best be utilized as director of Teen Learning at the Agency for Jewish Learning, a position she held between 2014 and 2015. After the agency’s dissolution, “[I] was very fortunate to be moved with the teen programs over to the JCC and its department of Jewish Life,” she said. Working at the JCC provided “the opportunity to experience a lot of professional growth.
“Coming over to work at the JCC gave me the opportunity to really share my voice and engage a lot of teens in the process of teen Jewish education,” she added.
Gerecht is a “very genuine person and you can tell that she really cares about you and wants to make you feel comfortable and make all of the Jewish community come together and feel like they can bring something to the table,” said Alana Yoffe, an 11th-grader at CAPA who met Gerecht years ago at Beth Shalom. “She will be deeply missed, because if you are involved in anything Jewish and especially in the Squirrel Hill area, you know Carolyn.”
Symons echoed that point.
“I am so grateful to know [Carolyn] and to have journeyed with her toward a greater vision of teen engagement over these years,” he said.
Still months from her departure, Gerecht paused for reflection. “Working with Jewish teens has just been a really positive experience for me, and I continue to feel that this age group has so much to offer the Jewish community,” she said. “I feel lucky to have listened to them during my time here.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.