You Should Know… Ariana Katz

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Katz

For those who don’t feel particularly welcomed at a synagogue in the Baltimore area — because of conversion or sexual identity, for example — rabbinical student Ariana Katz has a solution to the problem.

Katz, 27, is in her final semester at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia, and she plans to open a synagogue and community center for recently formed Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl. Hinenu translates to “here we are” and shtiebl means “little room or house where learning or prayer takes place” in Yiddish.


How did the idea for Hinenu come about?

About a year ago, I began meeting with people in Baltimore to find out if there was a Jewish community that was meeting their needs. And in August, we had our first open house where there was a lot of dreaming and question asking. I [met] a group of people who are hungry for Jewish community, and whenever you see a group of people assembled like that, you’re just in awe. And I’m really in awe of these people.

What will be Hinenu’s goals?

For the [Baltimore] community that I’m working with, what really matters is their commitment to the work they do with amazing organizations and their commitment to social justice and to their neighborhoods. Hinenu is a growing community for Jews and our allies in Baltimore to come together for learning and prayer and deep communal love and accountability as it manifests in chesed — caring for one another both in hard and joyful times.

What are Hinenu’s initial plans?

We’re trying to build a synagogue community center. This is hyper local, one chapter, one synagogue. We’re looking to eventually move into a physical place to have a community space together.

So this is a traditional synagogue?

I think in some ways it’s surprisingly traditional. [Shtiebls are] all over the larger Baltimore area, so it’s really traditional in that sense. But it’s also a place for people who have LGBTQIA identity, who are in interfaith families, or who are Jews of color or who have converted. It’s playing with traditional and nontraditional in some ways.

Talk about Hinenu and social justice.

We’re at the beginning of the process of talking about ourselves. But at the core is supporting each other as we do social justice work and coming together [for social justice] as a community. Something important to me as someone who’s almost a rabbi is offering spiritual care for people who are doing tikkun olam. Often, people come to Hinenu with the question: Will you show up as a political or religious being? At Hinenu, we’re saying you don’t have to choose. You don’t have to let go of your religious cultural identity in order to do justice work.

Why Baltimore?

My ties [to the area] start with my partner who grew up in Howard County. I have always loved Baltimore and wanted to come back. Last year, I began thinking about cities that have wonderful Jewish communities that care about justice work and where another congregation might be needed.

What are Hinenu’s plans for activism?

Something that I’ve been amazed by is the number of organizations and committees that Hinenu people, both in Baltimore and internationally, are a part of [whether it’s] supporting candidates, sitting on a neighborhood commission or doing work for Israel and Palestine. It’s important to me to create space that provides spiritual resources for activists and people who engage with [social justice].

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