Sarah Mangan doesn’t write lesson plans anymore, but the organizational skills she honed as an English teacher are proving invaluable at Temple Emanuel of South Hills.
Since joining the suburban synagogue as its program and volunteer coordinator in August, Mangan has created partnership opportunities between congregants and local organizations, including The Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and South Hills Interfaith Movement, as well as chances for members to meaningfully engage outside of Shabbat and holiday services.
While Temple Emanuel’s early childhood center and religious school meet the needs of numerous young people and families, “I sort of see myself filling in the gap,” Mangan said.
The population Mangan typically works with are community members who “want to strengthen their relationships with others and strengthen their Judaism through social action or through adult education.”
Mangan, 34, said she’s enjoyed contributing to longstanding institutional groups, such as Women of Temple Emanuel and Men of Temple Emanuel, as well as exploring new avenues of communal growth.
She pointed to an upcoming Shabbat dinner, as well as a Purim karaoke night, as examples of fun ways Temple Emanuel members can come together after being apart for so long because of the pandemic.
Bolstering interpersonal bonds, and finding ways for congregants to further local causes, has benefited her personally as well, Mangan said.
Last year, she and her husband, Josh, welcomed twin boys.
“It's important to me that they grow up in a community that I wish I had,” Mangan said of her sons. “I grew up in the South Hills. I grew up in an interfaith family that didn't really attend any religious organization, but I always felt strongly connected to the Jewish side of my family; and when I went to college I started to explore that on my own.”
As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, Mangan relied on friends, Hillel JUC and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh as tools for developing her own Jewish knowledge, she said. After graduating, she and her husband moved to Lancaster, where she was active in Congregation Shaarai Shomayim.
The couple remained in Lancaster for almost a decade. In 2021, they returned to Pittsburgh to be closer to family.
“When we moved back, it was important for me to continue to have a Jewish community in our lives, especially with our children being young,” Mangan said.
Though she enjoyed teaching English and language arts at The Campus School at Carlow University, when a position at Temple Emanuel opened, Mangan jumped at the opportunity.
“It just seemed like the right fit for our family at the time,” she said. “And I'm really glad that I took the leap because I've been really enjoying it.”
Trading a classroom for synagogue office space didn’t require Mangan to eschew her former practices, though.
“It's all of my favorite parts of teaching,” she said of serving Temple Emanuel members. “I get to work with people. I get to organize things. I love to plan, so I've been having a lot of fun in this role.”
Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Aaron Meyer said the congregation has greatly benefitted from Mangan’s involvement.
“Temple Emanuel is fortunate to have Sarah building relationships in both the Temple and greater South Hills community and thinking about the engagement and programmatic offerings that will enrich Jewish life,” he said. “Sarah’s warmth and talent fosters connections between people and their passions while furthering Temple's mission of living, learning and leading Judaism.”
Mangan said it’s meaningful to know that her efforts aren’t only benefitting peers but creating pathways for future community members.
“I think a lot of us who get into education value doing good in the world,” she said. “The fact that I get to do that — I get to participate in all of these activities, but also I get to provide that opportunity for others — is incredibly meaningful to me. I love that my children are going to grow up seeing me doing that and modeling that and enjoying it, and I hope that one day they'll enjoy it, too.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.