Temple Sinai is welcoming a few new faces this High Holiday season.
The Reform congregation on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill recently hired Cantor Regina Heit as its education director; Danie Oberman as its community engagement director; and Rayna Saltzman to fill the role of junior youth adviser. Heit’s and Oberman’s roles are full time; Saltzman will be working part time.
“It’s so joyful to be at Temple Sinai,” Heit said. “Everyone is so lovely and welcoming and so kind and helpful. It’s easy for me to be who I am, and that’s a person who is grateful every day.”
Ordained in 1981, Heit first served as a cantor and education director in Evansville, Indiana, before moving to a congregation in New City, New York. She next accepted the pulpit as senior cantor at Temple Emanuel in Denver.
During the last three decades, Heit has also worked as the director of programs within religious schools at synagogues.
“Now, I’m returning to what I call my happy place,” she said.
If Heit’s resume reveals a certain willingness to travel, one might blame that on her background.
The cantor’s father worked for the United States government and travel was part of the job. Heit was born in Japan, then moved to Hawaii before it was a state. She next spent time in Baltimore, then Alexandria, Virginia, before moving to Anchorage, Alaska, where her father served as the civilian personnel director for the United States Army for all of Alaska and the Pacific Theater.
The family next ventured to Sacramento, California, then moved back to Honolulu where Heit attended Punahou School, the same school attended by President Barack Obama.
Heit attended the University of Hawaii and finished her studies at the Hebrew Union College in New York.
Heit, who has been married to her husband Matthew for 43 years, also has deep Pittsburgh roots.
“My father was born and raised in Pittsburgh,” she noted, “and our grandson — which is the reason we moved here — will be the sixth generation of my family living in Pittsburgh. My father grew up in Squirrel Hill. He attended Poale Zedeck and graduated in the February 1936 class of Taylor Allderdice. He went to Gladstone Junior High. My grandson, please God, will graduate from Allderdice 103 years after his zayde, and he’s named after my father.”
Heit said her goal is to make learning a joyful and fun experience. The Jewish people, she said, are “amazing” and filled with faith and gratitude.
“My goal is to create a sense of gratitude for life for where we are and being Jewish,” she said. “If kids have a fun time, they’ll learn.”
For Oberman, the congregation’s new community engagement director and youth group adviser, finding Jewish Pittsburgh roots mattered.
She moved to the city about a year ago for graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, studying for her master’s in social work.
“I was looking for a Jewish community and kind of stumbled into Sinai,” she said.
And while she’s a relatively new face to Temple Sinai members, Oberman has spent the last year paying her dues.
“I was already going to services and tutoring bar and bat mitzvah students and teaching in the religious school,” she said. “Over the summer, I needed a part-time job, and they found some administrative work for me to do.”
Oberman, who grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, said her role will take her to where the most need is.
“We’re letting the community guide what I’m doing,” she said. “We have some ideas, we know the communities not being reached and the demographics, but what that’s going to look like, we’re working on now. I’m creating a strategic plan and mission and vision,” she said.
Temple Sinai, she noted, does a good job of programming for every demographic, but said Pittsburgh has a growing young adult community that is hard to reach. She hopes to help create programs that will be inviting for them.
Oberman certainly has the verifiables to help program Jewish life at the synagogue.
The 24-year-old spent time as the president of her youth group in high school, served as a youth trustee on her congregation’s board and attended Jewish day camp.
“I have a decent amount of family that are all social staffers, so when I got this job they jokingly welcomed me into the family business,” she said.
Before creating programs and social activities, Oberman plans to spend time getting to know the Temple Sinai community.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I’m going to start having one-on-ones with members of the community — tell me your story, tell me what you’re excited about, what’s going to work. I’ve been going to confirmation classes to meet some of the teens and build relationships, but I am meeting a ton of people in the community I hadn’t already met.”
Tasked with helping to engage the next generation of Jewish community members, Saltzman will be serving as the junior youth group advisor, working with students in fifth through eighth grade.
The Dallas native moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 to attend college at the University of Pittsburgh. She works full-time at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. She, too, had a typical Reform Jewish background, attending Jewish day camp before working as a counselor, as well as attending BBYO events. And she was active at Hillel at Pitt.
Temple Sinai is in the initial stages of working with Hillel to build a bridge that will help identify graduating seniors staying in town who might be interested in attending the Reform synagogue, said congregation Executive Director Drew Barkley.
Saltzman said her immediate goal is to get to know the Sinai community.
“It’s building relationships with both parents and children,” she said. “I want them to have fun and get to know each other, first and foremost. Once that is established, we can bring in some educational things.”
The new team, Barkley said, is part of Temple Sinai’s plans to engage with as many members of the Jewish community as possible.
“They’re the connectors,” he said. “It has nothing to do with numbers. It has everything to do with the quality of community and engagement and people living here and being part of this temple. It has nothing to do with us wanting to add 50 or 100 new households. It has everything to with the quality of life and making people comfortable being part of the community.”
The new staff, Barkley said, has brought a renewed sense of excitement to Temple Sinai.
“That’s because of the people, these people and the rabbis and both cantors,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.