A twentysomething Atlanta native is getting her start as a rabbi by reaching out to fellow young adults in a city she loves, but it’s not Atlanta.
Instead, Reform Rabbi Alexis Pinsky is back in New Orleans, where she attended Tulane University and which she fell in love with in her teens while older brother Michael was a Tulane student.
“Something takes ahold of you here,” said Rabbi Pinsky, who was ordained in the spring, five years after graduating from Tulane in three years with a degree in psychology and Jewish studies. “It worked out perfectly that I was able to come back.”
It worked out in part because, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, the Jewish population in the New Orleans area has reached 10,300, about 800 more than before the storm. Most of the newcomers are in their 20s, 30s and 40s and less likely than earlier generations to be affiliated with synagogues — a nationwide issue exacerbated when young adults are new to an area.
Congregation Gates of Prayer, which is one of four synagogues in suburban Metairie, responded by adding a second rabbi to focus on young-adult outreach.
“This is a new position that was created specifically for us to be able to have a younger rabbi who would be able to relate to younger components of our Jewish community,” said Rabbi Robert Loewy, who has led Gates of Prayer for more than 30 years.
He said a major part of Rabbi Pinsky’s job is to engage couples and singles in their 20s and 30s where they are living. She said that means extending Gates of Prayer’s reach beyond the synagogue and into the city so “a variety of people can come and do something Jewish-oriented in an accessible way.”
For example, she might hold a Shabbat gathering at a downtown art gallery one week and an Uptown location the next. She’s organizing a Rosh Hashanah wine-and-cheese event at City Park.
“There are so many young people to reach out to,” she said. “There is so much young life,” combining people who moved to the city directly, drawn by the opportunity to help rebuild a great city, and those who attended Tulane and either stayed after graduation or, like Rabbi Pinsky, managed to find their way back.
“My goal at this point isn’t to have people connect with a specific synagogue, just connect with Judaism,” said Rabbi Pinsky, emphasizing that her efforts aren’t in competition with the two Reform congregations in Uptown New Orleans, Temple Sinai and Touro Synagogue. “It’s just bringing positive Jewish experiences to people in the Jewish community.”
She’s developing programming as she meets with young adults, and she’s happy to have the support of her new congregation in getting her peers involved in Jewish life.
Rabbi Pinsky said she met Rabbi Loewy while she was in rabbinical school and got to know him and the Gates of Prayer community better when she visited three years ago for a Shavuot program and when Rabbi Loewy led a confirmation class on a trip to New York two years ago.
Those kids are high school seniors now. When she was their age, Rabbi Pinsky said, she didn’t know she would be a rabbi, but she was well on that path.
At Tulane, Rabbi Pinsky taught religious school with the two Uptown Reform congregations and led Reform services at Hillel. She realized that she loved to teach and wanted a pulpit.
“Everything totally came together in college” to lead her to the rabbinate, she said.
The daughter of Debbie and Richard Pinsky and younger sister of Mark Pinsky, who like her parents is still in the Atlanta area, and Michael Pinsky, who is finishing a urology residency at Tulane, Rabbi Pinsky graduated grew up at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs.
She said Sinai Rabbi Brad Levenberg, who was the first freshly ordained rabbi she got to know, became a role model while she was at Riverwood International Charter School and remains a valuable mentor and friend.
“At this point, I’m really living out what I want to do” by teaching, creating an exciting community and engaging with Judaism, Rabbi Pinsky said. “This is great.”