“I feel like this is my home and that I grew up here. I learned how to be honest, and authentic, make friends and show up for people and myself,” Rabbi Miriam G. explains.
That sense of home has always been an elusive and motivating theme for Rabbi Miriam as she has navigated her, at times, unexpected and yet wonderful life’s path to Beit T’Shuvah. Born in Mountain View, California the older of two sisters she remembers growing up in Silicon Valley before it was the iconic global center of leading-edge computer technology. In fact, she shares, “Going home is like a foreign land at times. My home as I knew it doesn’t exist anymore.” One large contributing factor to that sense of unfamiliarity and disconnect was the fact that her family moved several times during her childhood. As she recalls, “When I was nine we moved from California to Massachusetts, and then at thirteen we moved back to Santa Rosa, California.” As a result of that geographical back and forth during such a pivotal time in her social and psychological development she wasn’t able to forge any type of lasting bonds with children her own age. As she laughingly describes it, “I got all the ‘joys’ of middle school without the accompanying friends.”
To help overcompensate for that lack of communal bonding Rabbi Miriam became somewhat of a “people pleaser.” She began to excel in school and in sports, particularly as a stand-out swimmer in high school. But there was still a massive void that no amount of accomplishment could fill. “I began to hate swimming and started focusing on trying to graduate early so I could get away from the internal friction I was experiencing,” she remembers. And she did, in fact, manage to graduate a semester early but in her zeal to move on and focus on the next phase she found herself distressingly alone. As she shares, “My parents were oddly unsupportive at this point in my life. My mom was somewhat clueless and my dad just wanted me to stay at home.” Determined to attack adulthood as fiercely and independently as possible she managed to get a job as well as a new boyfriend and found herself back on the east coast and enrolled at Brown University.
On the outside it appeared she was this outgoing, energetic, and ambitious young woman. But it was largely someone else’s life. As she explains, “I began trying to find meaning as a human being through relationship codependency and taking on the identities of other people to help me fit into a world that I largely felt disconnected from.” In the end, she ended up with a degree in Education Studies and an unexpected yet beautiful calling to convert to Judaism. Having first been introduced to the Jewish faith through a high school visit to a Synagogue, Rabbi Miriam found herself in 2007 as a jobless college graduate living off of unemployment benefits and dating a young Jewish man. The timing was absolutely perfect for a spiritual awakening. Always with an eye toward the humor and beauty in any given situation she lovingly describes the moment as, “total codependency and a massive G-d shot at the same time.”
It was not an easy process, by any means, but despite the difficulty, she persevered, and, even though the relationship didn’t last, she did successfully convert and more importantly began to realize her true passion and calling – to become a Rabbi. Following the breakup, she moved back to California in 2010 and began the pursuit of her Rabbinical destiny. After some back and forth concerning the need for studying college-level Hebrew, Rabbi Miriam finally landed at the Academy for Jewish Religion to begin her studies. And that’s where she was first introduced to Beit T’Shuvah via a few “Shuvites”, who then eventually encouraged her to transfer to the Ziegler school where Rabbi Mark B. and Rabbi Joseph S. graduated as well. As part of her education at Ziegler, Rabbi Miriam was required to take a Practical Rabbinic Intensive during one winter session and she chose the one being offered at BTS.
Having never been exposed to anything remotely like Beit T’Shuvah and its mission, she recalls, “I was extremely drawn to the aspect of Judaism as seen through the prism of recovery and healing. I knew then I wanted to study at BTS as part of my education and spiritual path.” So, following the class, at the suggestion of a friend at BTS, she met with Rabbi Mark B. One thing led to another and she was eventually introduced to Rabbi Matt S. Before she knew what was happening she was offered a job and spent the next two years of her educational program as a Rabbinical Intern at Beit T’Shuvah. Following her graduation in 2018, she spent a year in Seattle at a wonderful Jewish congregation. At the end of that year, Beit T’Shuvah came calling again, this time with a full-time job offer. And as she explains, “I was engaged at the time to my now husband who happened to be based in L.A. for work. So, I joyously accepted the position. Four months later we got married and then I started my blessed journey as a full-time Rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah.”
Four and a half months after starting at Beit T’Shuvah the COVID-19 pandemic/lockdown descended upon the world and 8831 Venice Blvd. So most of her time spent at BTS has been colored and profoundly influenced by the global impact of the disease. And as she shares, “The biggest thing it revealed to me was the importance of showing up.” While most people, especially in the Jewish and Recovery communities, were shut off and isolated from human interaction Rabbi Miriam knew that physically being there for her clients, fellow staff members and the greater BTS community was paramount to not only their health and wellbeing but her own as well. “I made a point to show up in person at least twice a week to let everyone know that I was here for them,” she fondly recalls. And by being there for others during that time of crisis and isolation she was also able to find the deep and elusive connection to community she so desired as a young girl.
As she relates, “Without the adversity brought on by the pandemic I might not have come to truly appreciate the untold importance of connection, reliability, and self-love.” Likewise, she also shares, “My time at BTS has been in many ways as much a gift as it has been a privilege. There really is no Rabbi Miriam story without Beit T’Shuvah.” But now life and G-d have provided another inspirational and challenging next chapter in her life narrative as a Rabbi, a teacher, and a molder of young minds. As she describes, “I’m now going to be moving on to teach Jewish Studies at de Toledo High School in the Valley.” And she again gives BTS a large portion of the credit for planting the seed for this new opportunity. As she explains, “It all started during a group I was leading at BTS for the residents. Out of nowhere, I received this internal message that I could teach high school. It was another G-d shot moment if there ever was one.”
As a result of that spiritual experience, she began to explore the opportunity to make the jump and this opening became available for her to seize and she took it. “The best part about it is that I get to continue my calling of helping to develop and mentor young Jewish minds to assist them as they step into adulthood, both educationally and spiritually,” she relates with her infectious and energetic smile. A relentless and buoyant source of energy and care Rabbi Miriam truly embodies everything Beit T’Shuvah represents to not only its residents and staff but to the community at large. She concludes by saying, “This place will always be a part of me. I’m eternally grateful and will forever call Beit T’Shuvah my home away from home.” To say that you’ll be missed is a massive understatement, Rabbi Miriam. But your influence and lasting impact will always remain an enduring reminder of just how powerful G-d’s hand can be when it comes to guiding one’s life toward connection, community, healing, and purpose. Thank you for all you do and continue to do in his name and for all those who are given the gift of your passion for teaching and elevating body, mind, and spirit. Your friends and family at Beit T’Shuvah wish you much abundance in this next exciting and fulfilling chapter of your already extraordinary life.