Rabbi Sharyn Henry’s 20-year tenure at Rodef Shalom Congregation and 31 years of rabbinic service were honored last week with the establishment of an eponymous award and endowment fund. The Rabbi Sharyn H. Henry Social Justice Award and fund will offer biennial financial support to a social justice cause that has made a significant impact in the region.
“I’m really truly honored by this award,” said Henry. “I think it’s a way for us to connect to people that are working on a project or an idea that we see as valuable and we want to work on, and that it gives us a way to frame what we do.”
“Social justice is a hallmark of Rabbi Henry’s rabbinic career,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Frances F. & David R. Levin Senior Rabbinic Pulpit Rodef Shalom, in a statement. “As a spiritual leader, educator, planner and advocate, Rabbi Henry has partnered with members of the congregation, and with others in the larger community, to ensure that social justice is never far from the top of the agenda. This new award and fund in her honor will continue Rabbi Henry’s legacy of work in Pittsburgh and beyond, deepening the ongoing ripple effect of her personal impact on social justice.”
Since receiving ordination three decades ago, Henry has made social justice a big part of her service. She has led young people and their families on missions to Haiti. She has accompanied students and lay leaders to Washington, D.C., on Religious Action Center-related programs, and has regularly volunteered at the East End Cooperative Ministry and helped with Rodef Shalom’s Empty Bowls event to support the hungry.
While these activities have exemplified Henry’s concern for others, less public endeavors have also also embodied such care. For years, Henry has met with b’nei mitzvah and helped them prepare divrei Torah to be shared. These informal engagements, and others, have enabled Henry to create meaningful connections lasting far longer than a milestone service.
Talking to Henry about her tenure, she recalled an individual who just became a board member at Rodef Shalom.
“She is someone that I’ve known since I got to Pittsburgh in 1991. I was there with her family for her bat mitzvah and when her mother died, and I was there at her wedding and her kid’s bris and naming. She comes to my house for Rosh Hashanah and Seder, and now she’s on the board,” said Henry. “This is a person I’ve known for most of her life. I think she’s 37 now, so this is the kind of thing that makes me feel really proud.”
In addition to building lasting relationships Henry is happy to have been a part of the congregation’s development.
“I am really proud of the inclusion work that we’ve done here and of the prayer opportunities that we’ve created,” she said. “With Don Megahan and Molly May, we’re creating, all the time, worship that we feel is engaging and helps you connect with the holy and with each other.”
The Rabbi Sharyn H. Henry Social Justice Award and fund were formally recognized at Shabbat services on Friday, May 3. Also announced that evening was that Rodef Shalom teen Jordana Avigad, because of her “exceptional and extraordinary volunteer record,” had won the Walter Ellman Social Action Memorial Award.
Henry supports the honors being presented in tandem.
“I’m hoping that both of these awards are aspirational for people to take social action and social justice more seriously, and that people will say, ‘Oh, wow, look, you can get an award for this, it’s that important.’” PJC
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