Paving the Way

Rabbi's Message - March 1, 2022

Rabbi Tina Sobo

“The idea that it’s possible to move from slavery to freedom and from darkness to light and from despair to hope – that is the greatest Jewish story ever told.”  Rabbi Sharon Brous, co-founder of innovative IKAR community, shares the idea that our Jewish story is irrevocably connected not only to the unfailing hope and belief that the future can be better than the present, but that we are responsible for being partners in making it so.

Today, as we welcome in Women’s History Month today, I want to affirm this hope and belief, amid the chaos of the modern world around us, and also take a moment to honor those who took strides to bring about freedom, light, and hope in our history – particularly women who have made it possible not just for myself and other female-identified individuals to be rabbis, but so many others as well.  

This year will mark 50 years of female-identified women in the North American rabbinate.  On June 3, 1972 Sally Priesand became the first ordained female rabbi in North America, upon her ordination from HUC-JIR.  That moment was made possible by her perseverance and persistence through all kinds of challenges to becoming the first female rabbi in an all-male profession – challenges most others would consider insurmountable.  Her courage paved the way for a changed vision of who could be a Rabbi: the rabbinate was no longer “just” for the stereotypical older white male with a beard.  Rabbi Priesand’s ordination was, and is, symbolic not only of her personal virtues, but the empowerment of so many Jewish individuals to share leadership within our Reform Jewish world and beyond – it is certainly worthy of celebration this month, this year, and always.

We are currently working with Rabbi Priesand to have the opportunity to hear her speak about her own journey and the experience of women in the rabbinate in a larger sense, including Regina Jonas, ordained in 1935 in Berlin and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.  Keep an eye out for an official announcement of the program.  In the meantime, there will be an exhibit beginning this spring, entitled Holy Sparks, will be on display at the Skirball Museum at HUC in Cincinnati from May 19-September 4, with an opening reception on May 19.  This exhibit marks highlights of the journey of women in the rabbinate from Regina Jonas’ and Sally Priesand’s ordinations through many other firsts for female-identified rabbis through today.  I’d encourage you to take a trip to go see it while it is more or less in our neighborhood. 

I encourage you to take some time this month to explore the rich contributions that women have made in our country’s history and in our religious history.  Through their bravery, and through retelling their stories may we inspire ourselves and empower the future.

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