Open doors and substantive Jewish learning signal start of Rabbi Hindy Finman’s tenure at JCC
WelcomeRabbi Hindy Finman

Open doors and substantive Jewish learning signal start of Rabbi Hindy Finman’s tenure at JCC

Following five years in Boston, Pittsburgh's newest Jewish communal professional aims to partner by making a 'seat at the table'

Rabbi Hindy Finman. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
Rabbi Hindy Finman. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Lest any confusion stem from Rabbi Hindy Finman’s lengthy new title, the senior director of Jewish life and director of the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh has an unmistakable approach.

“My door is open,” she said. “You have a seat at the table.”

Finman is looking forward to assuming the role previously held by Rabbi Ron Symons, who will move to the New York City area next month.

“I am so excited and eager to meet people, and learn about their love for Pittsburgh and their hopes and dreams of Jewish life in Pittsburgh,” she said.

Finman is in Boston, where she’s slated to receive ordination from Hebrew College on June 2. Last week, she visited Pittsburgh to meet colleagues, speak with community partners and find a place to live.

Having spent much of her adulthood in Massachusetts pursuing the rabbinate and in Colorado helping launch the BaMidbar Wilderness therapy program, she found Pittsburgh presented countless surprises.

“This week has blown my mind,” Finman said. “I was very unaware of all the amazing work that’s happening in Pittsburgh — both amazing work that’s been going on for years and this sort of, what I would call, ‘post-COVID thawing.’”

Rabbi Ron Symons and Rabbi Hindy Finman. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Meetings with community members, nonprofit leaders and future partners confirmed that “people just want to get back together and continue the work, or address new things that have come up since COVID.” That heightened excitement and energy is “my love language,” she said.

Finman is intent on building but isn’t fixated on numbers. She said she wants to meet “the needs of the people where they’re at” rather than “just pushing an organization’s agenda of wanting to hit 300 people by this date or raising this amount of dollars.”

Benchmarks are “great internally,” she said, but the better approach is rabbinic. Following a divine lead requires “interfaith collaboration, Jew and Jew collaboration, and denominational collaboration. I think there’s so much room for creativity.”

Finman is committed to casting a wide net, but said it’s imperative to reach a particular demographic.

“There’s a gap in our Jewish community of providing services for young adults and teens who do not fit your typical camp mold,” she said. “Summer camp is great — I love summer camp — but that’s a two-month experience. So throughout the 10 months of the year, how can the Center for Loving Kindness empower teens?”

The new hire credited several “amazing organizations” that work with Pittsburgh youth before asking, “How can we all do that together?”

As the “new kid on the block,” Finman stressed she isn’t seeking to implement “radical” changes immediately, but hopes several questions will be addressed: “What works? What definitely doesn’t work? What might not work because it just hasn’t been reviewed enough or been creative enough? If there was no budget what would we do? And, working within a budget, where do we see the gaps?”

Finman is convinced the JCC and its Center for Loving Kindness can plug various cavities but eschewed specifics.

“Come back to me in a year, and we’ll see what happened and what still needs to happen,” she said.

Too often, Finman said, the desire to enter a space and create anew denies a thorough review of one’s surroundings.

“If something’s working, let’s keep doing it,” she said. “Let’s keep going and celebrate the things that are working. And that seems to be — because there are teens walking through our doors.”

Finman’s communal and rabbinic approach is shaped by decades of Jewish experience.

“I grew up Chabad,” she said. “My dad’s a Hasidic rabbi, and my mom’s very much the rebbetzin. I’m one of seven. They have a Chabad house just outside of Detroit in Ferndale, Michigan, which is sort of the queer neighborhood of Detroit.”

Finman called her parents’ home a refuge to “everybody who is the guy living in his car to the dean of a college.”

What every guest will find is “a seat at the table,” she said. “Jewish, not Jewish, in the process of converting, trans, straight, you name it, they’re at the table. And they’re all completely wonderful, lovely people.”

From the moment of her birth in Australia — where Finman’s parents were shlichim (religious emissaries) — exposure to “extreme radical hospitality” has been foundational, she said. “I have an extreme amount of gratitude for my parents for instilling those values in us very, very young.”

One way of paying homage is by calling herself a “Hasidic feminist.”

The term means personalizing “foundational” materials, she said. “Not just assuming what’s on the page is to be taken for granted but really looking back at biblical texts, Talmudic texts and then the Hasidic texts, while also keeping in mind my love for history.”

Issues espoused generations ago remain relevant, Finman explained.

Being a “Hasidic feminist,” means scouring Jewish sources and asking, “Is this an inclusive text or not? If it isn’t an inclusive text, how can we make it inclusive? And if it already is inclusive, great. Then make a big pot of chicken soup and invite everybody over for Shabbat dinner.”

Jason Kunzman and Rabbi Hindy Finman. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Finman is unabashedly deliberate in who she is and what she wants to accomplish.

Her JCC-issued name tag says “Rabbi Hindy.”

“Having the word ‘rabbi’ was very intentional,” she said.

Hearing that title should “open up people’s eyes,” the rabbi continued. “I don’t wear a kippah, and I don’t wear a collar.”

Holding this position requires “constantly asking who’s not at the table, and why has our tradition not allowed them at the table,” she said.

Being a rabbi also demands involvement in substantive Jewish learning.

I love text-based learning. Not everybody loves text-based learning, so sometimes it’s just learning by being a role model and learning by example,” she said.

Weeks remain until Finman begins her Pittsburgh tenure.

Jason Kunzman, the JCC’s president and CEO, cannot wait.

“We are on the cusp of redefining Jewish engagement — of which Jewish learning is a part of — Hindy brings with her this innate ability to turn things upside down and inside out, and make sense of it all in a very Jewish way,” he said. “We’re going to shake it up. We’re going to do it meaningfully and in a way that we hope will resonate with as many of our neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish.”

Finman can’t imagine any other approach.

“I don’t want the word ‘senior’ to ever scare anybody away. I don’t want the word ‘rabbi’ to ever scare anybody away. I don’t want the fact that I’m a woman in a rabbinic role to scare anybody away,” she said.

Change is often met with fear, but Finman hopes that people see the goal.

“This open door policy means let’s meet, let’s chat, let’s go for a walk, let’s go for coffee and nothing they can say will deter me from wanting to show up again,” she said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

read more: