After almost seven years of leading his congregation in social action and heading up its educational programs, Rabbi Ronald Symons has announced that he will be leaving his post at Temple Sinai at the end of this school year, June 2015.
Symons, who serves as both the director of Lifelong Learning and the director of the Tikkun Olam Center for Jewish Social Justice at Temple Sinai, will be resigning in order to pursue “a new professional rabbinic path in Pittsburgh,” he said in a letter to his congregation on Oct. 23.
While he has not yet charted that path, he said he is now beginning to look around for a position that will fit his set of skills and passions.
“I really continue to be inspired by Jewish wisdom and sharing that wisdom with people,” he said in an interview. “I am inspired by how Jewish wisdom can impact the world for good.”
Symons made headlines earlier this year when he was arrested for trespassing at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center headquarters while protesting the wages that the regional health care giant pays its lower-level employees. Nine other clergy members were arrested as well.
Symons said he was proud of Temple Sinai’s work to improve the community at large, including its ongoing volunteer efforts at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Panty and its collaboration with interfaith organizations such as the East End Cooperative Ministry and the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network.
“What I learned from Temple Sinai members is our Jewish wisdom matters in our world,” he said. “And I’m proud of all the things Temple Sinai members have accomplished over the years in social action, and in Jewish learning, as well as in creating a vibrant congregation. I’m confident that work and success will continue years into the future.”
During his tenure, Symons strengthened the connection between b’nai mitzvah families and the Jewish Association on Aging, ensuring that “every grade level learns about the mandate to honor and respect the elderly and to care for them,” he said.
He also noted his pride in Temple Sinai’s teen community as well as its “vibrant Jewish adult learning, ranging from traditional Jewish learning to contemporary issues.”
Throughout Symons’ tenure at the congregation, he has been a “thought leader,” said Rabbi James Gibson, senior rabbi at Temple Sinai.
Symons, said Gibson, upgraded the educational curriculum during his time as director of Lifelong Learning and served as a mentor to the religious school teachers.
“He took our school to a new level,” said Rick Kalson, president of the congregation.
Through the efforts of Symons, Jewish programming expanded beyond the walls of the temple, said Gibson.
“He spearheaded out-of-temple experiences for young adults on Rosh Hashanah, and he has been an advocate for beyond-the-walls education,” Gibson continued, noting Symons’ “Crazy Torah” meetings at the Crazy Mocha coffee shop, where adults study the weekly Torah portion.
“He also has been a beacon of social justice advocacy,” Gibson added. “It’s been a marvelous seven years, and we thank him for his gifts and hope to partner with him in his future endeavors.”
Symons’ imminent departure is driven by his desire to find new opportunities to grow, according to Kalson.
“I think Rabbi Symons grew tremendously in his seven years at Temple Sinai,” he said. “I think now he is looking for a new growth opportunity.”
In his letter to the congregation, Symons said he made the decision to leave “after a good deal of self-reflection and consideration about the congregation’s needs and my family’s needs.”
Symons’ announcement that he would be leaving Temple Sinai took the congregation’s president by surprise.
“This is not what I expected,” Kalson said. “But I respect him tremendously as a rabbi and as a friend, and I respect his decision.
“I’m in spiritual mourning that he’s leaving,” Kalson added. “And I’m looking forward to a long relationship in the future.”
The congregation has formed a rabbinic search committee, which plans to have someone in place before Symons leaves so that he can help with the transition, according to Kalson.
Education and social justice will remain a priority in determining Symons’ successor, Kalson said, adding that the congregation’s new rabbi will certainly bring “some of their own flavor and own ideas to improve on something that’s already pretty terrific.”
Symons encourages anyone looking for “an active and vibrant Jewish community” to consider exploring Temple Sinai.
“Temple Sinai continues to be that and promises to be even better in the future than it has been in the past,” he said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.