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For queer couple, creating Jewish home is part of the job
by Matt Simonette

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For Megan GoldMarche, creating a home alongside her wife Paige is literally part of her job.

Megan has, since 2016, been rabbi at the Silverstein Base Hillel in Lincoln Park. It serves all area universities and colleges except Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, among them DePaul and Loyola Universities, University of Illinois at Chicago and Columbia College. In its first year, Silverstein Base Hillel served about 800 individuals, Megan said.

Megan and Paige organize programming and dinners for students and others at the Hillel, where they live, several times monthly. Megan further emphasized that the Hillel does "about a third of our work [with people] in the first stage of life after college—that's a pretty broadly-defined stage, mostly their mid- to late 20s to their early 30s."

She added, "There used to be a sense that, 'After college, life had begun.' We're no longer seeing that. That's a space the Jewish community is trying to figure out. … We're the first time that a rabbinic family has entered that space and said, 'We understand the needs college students have—mentorship, support, learning—and that people [immediately after] that stage of life still need them."

Megan and Paige wear that 'rabbinic family' moniker proudly. Paige, as the rebbetzin, or "rabbi's wife," is as integral to the smooth operation of the house as Megan is. She was hired alongside Megan, and is a one-fifth-time employee; she also works as an assistant director at the University of Chicago's Hillel.

Paige said she similarly "owns" the rebbetzin title, adding, "I think there's something important about having a rabbi and also having someone fit into that position, being here and having these students and young adults having us as kind of their 'other family.' … Being the rabbi's wife is not just sitting around cooking. It's being present and engaging students."

The Base Hillel program only hires married rabbis, Megan explained. "They want someone who can create a 'home.' As someone who was single until they were thirty, I think you can definitely create a home by yourself, but the work that we do, having people in our house so many times a week, with cooking, shopping cleaning, would be even more emotionally draining if there wasn't someone there with you who is signed on."

Megan, an Oak Park native, was previously at Barnard College's Hillel, which she said was more of a "straightforward" Hillel experience. "Here, we're trying to create community out of people from disparate places. At a synagogue, you have a place people have joined, and, as a rabbi, your job is to enrich that community and maybe do a little bit of recruitment. Here, your job is to take people who maybe don't even realize that they want to be part of a community, and help them create it."

She added that she and Paige are likely the first queer couple hired "to be a family to the Jewish community. … We just feel proud to be part of this, especially in a city where the Jewish community is known for being somewhat conservative. That they did this is not a small thing, and we hope it will be a model for others."

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