Friday, June 11, 2021/1 Tammuz, 5781
Parashat Korah Numbers 16:1−18:32
Earlier this week, I was blessed to participate in a Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) Conference for the very first time. The conference was entitled “Journey to Fifty,” as Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman rabbi ordained in the US, began her fiftieth year in the rabbinate. Her journey towards ordination was challenging and scary. Many assumed—and hoped—that she was in seminary to marry a rabbi rather than to become ordained as one herself. On June 3, 1972, she shattered the glass ceiling when she stood in front of the ark to receive her ordination. She made room for the 834 female-identifying rabbis who have since become ordained through Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and the women who would one day be ordained as rabbis and cantors throughout the Jewish world. About her experience, Rabbi Priesand remarked, “I’ve worked really hard not just to open the door, but to hold it open for others to follow in my footsteps.” Rabbi Priesand broke the glass ceiling, but each of the rabbis the followed her worked hard to enlarge the opening, making it easier for each subsequent generation.
Our conference celebrated firsts for female rabbis; the first reform, conservative, and reconstructionist rabbis, the first time a female ordained other rabbis, the first orthodox Rabbah, the first to serve as rabbi for a congregation, and the first female senior rabbi, to name a few. Over 50 international female rabbis joined the conference to share their stories of righteous indignation and inspiration, their unwavering passion for overcoming gender bias so that they could be among the first female rabbis to serve in communities from London to Berlin, Cape Town, and beyond. I am proud to call every single one of them my colleagues and join them in the hard work of creating a more embracing and all-encompassing Jewish community.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was “Story Time with Sally.” Rabbi Priesand reflected and read one of my daughter’s favorite titles, about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As she began, I invited both of my children to join me in listening to her reflections as she shared the story of RBG’s life. Noam was amazed that there had ever been misogyny in the rabbinate. “There still is,” I told him. “I’ve experienced it. But it’s lessening because of the amazing leaders, like Rabbi Priesand, who have led the way.” “Good.” He replied, “Because the only kind of Judaism I want to be part of is the kind that lets everyone in.”
Rabbi Cassi Kail