When Jeremy Markiz was in sixth grade and had an opportunity to choose an adult to job shadow for a day, he followed his rabbi.
So it was really “no big surprise,” he said, when almost a decade later, he decided to enroll in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon.
Now, the newly ordained rabbi, who has been in Pittsburgh for just six months, is well on his way to making his mark in the Steel City.
Markiz, 28, already is a familiar face at Congregation Beth Shalom, where he serves in the recently created position of director of youth tefillah, providing Shabbat and holiday programming for the Conservative congregation’s youngest members.
But that’s not all.
He is helping students at J Line with a project creating podcasts with residents of Weinberg Terrace (see story on page 3). He worked over the summer at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s J&R Camp alongside Rabbi Ron Symons and camp director Lewis Sohinki running a program focusing on Jewish values. He has been a featured speaker at Moishe House. He runs an independent Rashi class for third- and fourth-graders and their parents. And he soon will be launching a Mishnah class for parents of Community Day School students.
The Portland, Ore., native is also working with Beth Shalom’s senior rabbi, Seth Adelson, to plan a Shabbat retreat for adults this summer, providing an “opportunity to engage in Judaism in a serious way.”
The man is busy, fueled by youthful energy, a calling to make Jewish literacy and access a priority, and serious coffee.
“It’s exciting to be in a new place,” said Markiz, who has never before lived anywhere other than the West Coast. “From the moment I got to Beth Shalom, I could feel the excitement about the new rabbi [Adelson], and the changes that are going on here, and the growth. It’s great to be a part of that.”
Markiz was motivated to enroll in the Ziegler School, he said, because of his personal quest for knowledge. But while he was there, he realized how he wanted to apply what he was learning: to help others move forward in their own Jewish literacy, and to provide the access for them to do so.
“I believe we are all on the path to literacy,” Markiz said, although each individual is on a different path. “Some people may not yet know their Hebrew letters, and others might not know Talmud. But we’re all on the path.”
In addition to helping others gain the necessary tools to enable them on their journeys, Markiz also wants to “create places for people to learn.”
“It’s about creating opportunities for people to learn at a time and place that makes sense for them,” he said.
Providing access to Jewish tradition to “every age group is so key,” Markiz added. “And I’m interested in helping provide opportunities that are more accessible.”
A new family service that he conducts along with Sara Stock Mayo at Beth Shalom called Minyan Mishpahti does just that, with a program that caters not just to children, but to their parents.
Yael Silk has attended the Minyan Mishpahti with her family and finds it “a lovely mix of actual tefillah and some learning,” she said. She appreciates that Markiz uses actual tefillot for the program, and that it’s not “kidified.”
Silk also participates with her third-grader in the Rashi class, which has parent/child pairs learning together in a traditional chavruta format.
“Rabbi Markiz is really respectful of young people, and he really pushes them, and I really appreciate that,” Silk said.
Markiz is a voracious reader, and his taste in books is broad, ranging from Jewish topics to education, business and management, and science fiction, of which he is a big fan. In fact, he has been known to find ways of integrating his fondness for science fiction into his rabbinate, including using an episode of the Fox animated series “Futurama” as one of his texts in teaching a Judaics class.
Markiz has brought a hearty dose of creativity to Squirrel Hill, said Adelson. “Rabbi Markiz has added a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial energy to our youth tefillah program. He is bursting with wonderful ideas and enthusiasm and has generated much excitement and engagement in that area.”
Pittsburgh, Markiz said, has been a great place to begin his career.
“Everyone in Pittsburgh is really nice, and wants to be helpful in whatever capacity,” he said.
“So far, so good.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.