It didn’t happen while gossiping at the watercooler, but a jungle gym still served the purpose by keeping Chaim Steinberg in the loop.
Hanging out “at the playground after school,” was where Steinberg, a middle school social studies teacher at Community Day School, first learned of an exciting local opportunity.
“[Young Judaea] was looking for a new coordinator, and I have a background in teaching and camping and also in informal and formal education and in Jewish education,” he said. “I thought, ‘that sounds interesting.’”
The self-proclaimed “firm believer in an integrated approach to learning” pursued the lead and last month became the new community coordinator of Pittsburgh’s Young Judaea Chapter.
Steinberg takes over for Hana Uman, who led the chapter between December 2014 and January 2016, said Karen Morris, a member of Young Judaea’s parent committee.
“Hana moved on and we had to go looking for another advisor. One thing led to another and Chaim decided to step in,” Morris explained.
The part-time position is supported by various fundraising efforts, explained Sharon Schoenfeld, Young Judaea’s director of U.S. programs.
Such efforts include an annual honey sale for Rosh Hashanah, a small membership fee, contributions from local parents and a fundraiser held in conjunction with CYJ (Camp Young Judaea) Midwest.
“We have applied for grants through the JCC and Federation for funding, and hopefully we can also count on alumni to help us give back,” said Schoenfeld.
Until 2012, Young Judaea received funding from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
At that time, Young Judaea and the alumni “were interested in becoming independent. Hadassah was focused on the hospital and itself, and the alumni wanted to create its own board,” explained Schoenfeld.
“We’re still close with Hadassah. Now we do everything through both national and local fundraising.”
Though part time, Steinberg’s hire is a boost to Young Judaea, said Schoenfeld.
“We are very lucky that we can get the use of his time.”
Because of Young Judaea’s peer-led model, Steinberg’s responsibilities largely consist of assisting high school participants design monthly programs for younger chapter members.
“The parent committee supports the advisor, we do whatever they need. The advisor’s main goal is to set up the programming, help the teens,” she maintained.
Year-round programming, including a Shabbaton, culminates with many of the children attending Young Judaea camps around the country, said Morris.
Recently, the number of area children attending Young Judaea camps has increased. Because of the year-round activities close to 25 to 30 Pittsburgh based children now attend Young Judaea camps. This is a significant increase from the 5 to 10 area kids who used to attend the camps, said Morris.
Taking the helm of the local chapter so late in the school year has Steinberg looking ahead.
“Right now, [we’re] planning the year-end Young Judaea picnic and a few other activities,” he said. “The big goal is setting up programmatically for next year.”
While Steinberg tinkers with the calendar, he is set on how to run Pittsburgh’s Young Judaea Chapter.
“One of the important goals is creating young leaders, teen leaders, and putting kids in positions to lead and make a difference and learn,” he said. “I think that with Young Judaea there are four or five No. 1 goals in terms of what they want our members to be. For me, what I view as central to a Jewish identity is tikkun olam, going out into the world and making it a better place.”
Part of the process in enabling future leaders is connecting kids with good role models, said Steinberg. Searching out the opportunities, professionals and mentors throughout the city will help Young Judaea members “build out” their capabilities.
For those familiar with Steinberg, there is much enthusiasm about Young Judaea’s new hire.
“Chaim is a very dynamic educator, he’s passionate, and all of us in the JTeenPgh network are excited for him to bring his energy to Young Judaea,” said Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Liron Lipinsky, director of the Joint Jewish Education Program, oversees Steinberg at J-JEP and concurred with Symons’ sentiment.
“Chaim is a brilliant teacher,” Lipinsky wrote in an email. “He teaches fourth- and seventh-grade Judaic Learning Lab. Jewish history comes alive in his classroom. He engages all students in all levels all the time.”
Steinberg considers himself a passionate educator and is eagerly looking forward to his future with Young Judaea.
“As a teacher and as a father, my favorite thing is to see young people doing incredible things,” he said. “And being a teacher and working with Young Judaea is an opportunity to do incredible things.”
Because of Young Judaea’s emphasis on peer-led activities, Steinberg believes that both younger and older participants will achieve considerable outcomes.
“It’s a great opportunity to see younger kids learn from older kids,” he said. “It’s a great way to put Jewish values in action, and fundamentally, if we aren’t engaging with the world and taking action to affect positive change, we are not doing our jobs fully as Jewish people and as the Jewish community.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.