After 17 years serving as the spiritual leader of Reform congregation Temple David in Monroeville, Rabbi Barbara Symons said that she will step away from the bima when her contract ends in June 2024.
Symons said she plans to move to New York with her husband, Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“We have no push factors. We only have pull factors,” she said. “Our family, which now includes our kids, are in New York or more likely to be in New York than Pittsburgh. Our extended families are in the New York City area largely, and our lifelong friends are in that area. That is why we decided to make this move.”
Symons is originally from upstate New York, and her husband is from Long Island. Both rabbis attended Hebrew Union College in New York.
Rabbi Ron Symons, who founded the Center for Loving Kindness at Pittsburgh’s JCC, said that over the next 15 months he will work with the organization’s leadership to advance the center’s cause “so that it exists beyond my presence here.”
His imminent departure comes during a period of transition for the JCC. Longtime President and CEO Brian Schreiber announced earlier this year that he would step down from the helm of the organization in September. Chief Program Office Jason Kunzman will succeed Schreiber.
That change, though, didn’t influence Ron Symons’ decision, which came at the end of a long process and was initiated by Barbara Symons’ decision to leave Temple David.
“It’s always hard to be the person that says it’s time for us to move on,” he said. “Barbara and I have made the decision together so we can age well into the future.”
The rabbis moved to Pittsburgh in 2006 after graduating from HUC and spending time in Westchester, New York, and Massachusetts.
The move to Pennsylvania, Barbara Symons said, was motivated by the job at Temple David. Her husband was working remotely at the time for the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, Israel. He went on to serve as a rabbi at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, where he directed the Midrash Center for Lifelong Jewish Learning and the Tikkun Olam Center for Jewish Social Justice.
Temple David President Reena Goldberg said that Barbara Symons’ departure will be bittersweet.
The congregation, she said, is in the early stages of forming a search committee for its next rabbi. It has not been decided yet whether the congregation will hire an interim or permanent spiritual leader.
A committee also will be created to ensure Symons’ nearly two decades of achievements at the congregation are properly recognized and celebrated.
“She will have been with us for 18 years,” Goldberg said. “She’s been our educator. She’s done life cycle events for all of our members — baby namings, bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmations, weddings, funerals. Over this long time span, our members have developed a really close bond with her. They really hold her in high regard.”
For the JCC’s part, Schreiber said the organization has been “blessed” to have Ron Symons as its senior director of Jewish Life for the last eight years.
“[We are] looking forward to the next 14 months where he will continue his groundbreaking work with the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement and complementary duties,” Schreiber said. “The extended time frame on the Symons’ family relocation provides ample opportunity to continue our future visioning and secure professional succession.”
Ron Symons said that he has been fulfilled by his rabbinic life in Pittsburgh and the multiple roles he’s filled.
“From the Agency for Jewish Learning to the Union for Reform Judaism as a regional educator in Pennsylvania, to the work at Temple Sinai in both education and tikkun olam, and now with the JCC — both in helping to reimagine teen engagement in the transition of the work from the AJL, helping to figure out what the ‘J’ is — and, of course, the Center for Loving Kindness, I’m thankful for every one of those experiences,” he said.
Ron Symons said he has learned from all the people with whom he’s worked professionally and the people of whose lives he’s been a part.
“I’m really humbled by the trust people gave to me,” he said.
Barbara Symons, too, said that she has built deep, intimate relationships over her 17 years at Temple David. It will be difficult, she said, to no longer be a part of Temple life, including life cycle events, when she leaves for New York. The rabbi will also miss the bonds she created with the larger community.
“I’ve built very strong relationships with the extended community,” she said. “My work with the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium and the community arm of that, called the Community Network, which I oversee, has been really important. The partnerships with the people at the institutions across Monroeville are really important. So is my work with the school board and library and town council, police department and food pantries. The list goes on and on.”
And while Barbara Symons will miss those relationships, she’s excited for the next steps in the lives of both her family and the congregation.
“I think the next rabbi will be very lucky to be able to be at Temple David,” she said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.