Rabbi Sally Finestone was raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. After graduating from Duke University, she attended Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati for her rabbinic training. She is only the eleventh woman in Jewish history to be ordained. Finestone began her career working as a Hillel director in Cincinnati, Houston, and at Harvard. Then she joined Congregation Or Atid, serving for twenty years as the Rabbi and Education Director. She has also been an instructor and counselor at the Harvard Divinity School. She is currently at Congregation Har Shalom in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Interviewed by Ronda Spinak, Rabbi Sally Finestone discussed her path to becoming a rabbi and the challenges she faced as a woman and mother in a male-dominated field. Her interest in a doctoral path led her to rabbinical school where she was a part of the first class at the school that held a larger group of women. After her ordination, where she was the first pregnant woman to be ordained, she chose to postpone her doctoral program and took a job as the rabbinic adviser at the University of Cincinnati Hillel. Falling in love with Hillel work, she moved around different campuses in Houston until landing at Harvard where she worked with Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold and Bernie Steinberg. Rabbi Finestone continued talking about her challenges as a woman in rabbinical school along with her challenges leading Conservative and Orthodox students. She explores her role as a mother and how it affected her career choices. She reflects on her relationship with God, how she handles crises of faith, her own crisis when her mother fell ill, and her experience in teaching congregation members, including a moment where she taught a holocaust survivor how to read the Torah for the first time at her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. After talking about the differences in the thirty years she has been a rabbi, she responds to criticism that women have feminized the rabbinate, stating that women have rightfully made rabbis more attune and sensitive to the lives and challenges of all facets of womanhood. Rabbi Finestone is proud of the work she has done and inspired, including the building of the Harvard Hillel, the range of students she has taught, and the educational opportunities she has been able to create at her synagogue.