Endowed director of Jewish student life and associate Chaplain of Lehigh, Rabbi Steven Nathan prioritizes student outreach, connection and support.
Four years into his present role, Nathan’s journey to getting to where he is now was not linear.
“The most difficult part of it all was trying to find the type of position that really was a calling for me,” Nathan said.
Upon finishing his undergraduate degree at Boston College and his Masters degree in counseling psychology at Columbia Teachers College, Nathan had a realization.
“I felt like I wanted to be working with people on a different level than just doing counseling or psychotherapy,” Nathan said. “I eventually realized, ‘Okay so combine my love of working with, helping and connecting with people and my love of Judaism; put the two together and its rabbi.’”
In the early part of his career, Nathan worked part time as the Hillel advisor of the Jewish Student Advisory Council at Lehigh.
After leaving Lehigh to work at Hampshire College, Nathan saw Lehigh was looking for an interim director of Jewish student life in 2017.
“I applied. I heard back from Lloyd Steffen, who’s the university chaplain, who actually started in 1990 when I was here as a student rabbi and Hillel Advisor and interviewed,” Nathan said. “I was hired for a year as interim and then I applied again, was interviewed and then hired as the regular staff person. So that’s how I ended up back here.”
Although he had worked at other institutions, Nathan said, Lehigh became home to him.
For Nathan, Lehigh just felt right.
“I like the school and the area so it feels like at this point in my life, this is where I’m meant to be and hopefully this is where I will stay until I retire,” Nathan said.
A typical work day in Nathan’s life revolves heavily around student outreach. He said he has been working with staff members on new and improved ideas for Jewish student life and recently moved into a new building.
Nathan said he enjoys getting to know students and building relationships with them. One way he likes to do this is through feeding them.
“Judaism is a very food centered religion and food centered culture, as are a lot of cultures,” Nathan said. “And for me, it’s a way of caring for people and giving a little feeling of home, but also connecting with people.”
Deborah Walters, ‘23, co-president of Lehigh Hillel said she admires Nathan’s commitment to the students.
He really puts his all into everything that he does, whether it’s just helping the board plan an event or working individually with students to explore their Jewish identity, she said.
When exploring his own identity, Nathan said his Jewish and gay identities are his strongest.
Nathan said his queer identity is important to him. In terms of his personal life, Nathan said he is a lover of the arts, an appreciator of musical theatre and most importantly, a father to three children.
“I think what’s so great about him is his dedication to Hillel and the fact that he is willing to go above and beyond for not only creating a community for Jews on campus, but for everyone,” said Lauren Pogostin, ‘21, an executive board member of Jewish Student Life.
Nathan said secondarily, his favorite part of his role is being able to involve himself in matters of diversity, inclusion and equity.
“As a gay man, I love collaborating with the Pride Center,” Nathan said. “I love working as part of the university and specifically as part of the Office of Diversity and the Office of Inclusion and Equity. ”
Nathan explained the challenges faced by the university in terms of diversity. He said while he would like to say he does not need to inform members of the Lehigh community on these relevant issues, some need to be told.
To further promote the university’s efforts towards making the campus a diverse and inclusive place, Nathan is on the Council for Equitable Community.
When thinking about his future at Lehigh, Nathan said he is excited for in-person activities to resume.
“I can’t wait to meet people in person next year and I really hope that people take advantage of our new building. I really look forward to just continuing to grow the vibrant community that existed before.”