As a baby, Stern was given four baby naming ceremonies with traditions incorporated from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox movements.
“That set the tone for my passion for pluralistic Judaism,” Stern laughed. Growing up in Union Square, she was active in the nearby Town and Village Synagogue, even though she was one of its younger attendees. After graduating Stuyvesant High School, she headed off to Brandeis, where she met students with a diverse range of Jewish experiences. But for the first time, she also encountered people who associated the Jewish community with something negative, having felt alienated or excluded from it in the past.
“I became increasingly aware of the need to create positive entry points to Jewish life for more people,” Stern said.
Though she had a master’s degree in Judaic studies, Stern looked for a job back in New York where she could make an on-the-ground difference in helping make Judaism more widely accessible. She found it at the Jewish Outreach Institute (now called Big Tent Judaism), which helps the Jewish community reach out to unaffiliated, intermarried, LGBTQ, multiracial and other Jews who often feel marginalized from organized Jewish life.
Stern quickly became one of the organization's most sought-after trainers on outreach and inclusion. She regularly travels across the U.S. to synagogues, Hillels, Federations and other Jewish groups to help them understand why an increasing number of people don’t participate in Jewish life, and how to combat that trend by creating innovative and inclusive initiatives. For example, to pursue young unaffiliated Jews who associate Judaism with outdated traditions, Stern might help a JCC set up shop in a farmer’s market — where these young Jews are more likely to be found, physically and metaphysically, than in a synagogue — and partner with a local beekeeper to offer gourmet honey tastings before the High Holidays.
“After creating these ‘client-centric experiences’ to deepen their Judaism in ways meaningful to them, we can strengthen those relationships,” said Stern. “As an organized Jewish community,” she said, “we are responsible for giving every person, no matter what, a positive and meaningful experience of Jewish life.”
Cutting edge cooking: Stern liked kale before it was popular.