Temple Sinai seeks a new song for the future
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TransitionsRabbi Keren Gorban will leave Temple Sinai in 2022.

Temple Sinai seeks a new song for the future

“We realized that music is so much a part of who Temple Sinai is. We really wanted an opportunity to bring that back to the forefront."

Temple Sinai Rabbi Keren Gorban will be leaving the Reform congregation in June, 2022. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Temple Sinai Rabbi Keren Gorban will be leaving the Reform congregation in June, 2022. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Temple Sinai’s assistant rabbi, Keren Gorban, will be leaving the Reform congregation on June 30, 2022. Rather than employing another rabbi to replace her, Temple Sinai’s leadership said it would instead hire an ordained cantor.

Alison Yazer, president of Temple Sinai’s board, said the decision not to renew Gorban’s contract was the result of two, simultaneous factors. The board, Yazer said, had begun having conversations with congregants concerning the temple’s needs for the future. At the same time, Gorban began searching for a new congregation to serve.

“So, it was really her decision to move on from Temple Sinai,” Yazer said.

The congregation’s plan to hire a new cantor now — after not renewing Cantor Laura Berman’s contract in September 2020 — is a priority for the congregation, Yazer said.

“We realized that music is so much a part of who Temple Sinai is,” she said. “We really wanted an opportunity to bring that back to the forefront, so it made sense for us to hire a cantor rather than another associate rabbi.”

Gorban currently oversees both youth and adult education through the congregation’s Center for Jewish Learning. Yazer said there are several possibilities to fill that role once Gorban leaves.

The first option is for the newly hired cantor to step into the position. A second possibility is that Senior Rabbi Daniel Fellman would head the Center. A third possibility would allow for a combination of the first two options, Yazer said. A final option is for the congregation to hire an education director.

“We want to do what’s in the best interest of our students and our teens,” Yazer said. “We will do whatever will give them the best educational experience.”

The original decision in 2020 to reduce its clergy staff from three members to two by not renewing Berman’s contract, Yazer said, was made for budgetary concerns and to “right size” the clergy for the congregation.

“We are not at the number [of members] we were originally when we had three clergy,” she said.

Drew Barkley, the congregation’s executive director, said Temple Sinai currently has approximately 700 family units, and that a congregation that size typically employs two — not three — clergy members.

Despite the decrease in the congregation’s size, Yazer said that Temple Sinai’s leadership thought it best to keep an associate rabbi on board during Fellman’s first year for purposes of continuity. That decision, though, meant that the cantor position had to be eliminated.

“It was no reflection of Laura Berman,” Yazer said. “We couldn’t afford three clergy and our size didn’t justify it. We had to make a decision.”

A year later, the congregation now feels bringing a cantor back into the fold is important, Yazer said.

“We realize we are lacking that and it’s really a part of who we are,” she continued. “We need to honor that.”

Expecting a rabbi to have the musical ability that rivals a trained cantor, she said, is a big ask. Yazer compared Temple Sinai’s former senior rabbi, Jamie Gibson, to a “unicorn” — an esteemed rabbi with a respected musical skill set.

“There aren’t that many unicorns out there,” she said.

Fellman is accustomed to working with a cantor, Barkley said, noting that Fellman worked alongside a cantor at his former synagogue in Syracuse, New York.

Barkley said the decisions made by Gorban and the congregation make sense for both parties, but that it’s always difficult when a rabbi leaves a congregation.

“Rabbi Gorban has been here seven years,” Barkley said. “She was in Denver for three years before that. We hired a new senior rabbi. It makes all the sense in the world that she would think about her career. This is the time to do it. The hard part is that if a rabbi is good, you have a relationship with them. It’s hard anytime a rabbi moves on.”

Temple Sinai, Yazer said, has begun to plan for the future.

“We have a task force called Sinai 2030 to figure out what’s next, what the next iteration of Temple Sinai looks like. It has been tasked with laying the groundwork,” she said.

Gorban declined to comment. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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