As I write this I am sitting in limud (learning) at the Rabbinical Assembly convention. I am constantly in awe of my colleagues – their accomplishments and their learning. Perhaps it is a symptom of being a woman in our society. Perhaps it is that we watch others change, but rarely see change in ourselves. Or, perhaps it is simply my nature. But when I look at the accomplishments of my colleagues, respect, admiration, and amazement washes over me like a waterfall. “See what she has done,” “Look at where he is,” and, “Wow,” plays over in my head. How lucky am I to be surrounded by these amazing, erudite, accomplished rabbis?
And then this happens…. a colleague told me I was her hero. “Me? Really?” I responded in my heart. How could I be her hero? I’m always so impressed by her. She always seems so determined, so well put-together. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ bursted from my lips. For not the first time this week, my eyes filled with unshed tears of overwhelming emotion. “Because of the Beth Tzedec position?” I recently took on a new temporary position, being the first woman to serve Beth Tzedec in Toronto, the largest Conservative synagogue, on their rabbinic team. It’s flattering, and humbling, and overwhelming to be part of this foundational shul. I was there a dozen years ago in an educational position, but now I am not merely a rabbi, but one of THE rabbis. I am opening the door for women to follow me.
But this is only part of her praise. Rather it’s for the trajectory of my rabbinate, spending my career in a galut (exile) from female rabbinic colleagues and full acceptance (if that can truly be found anywhere). Although I never set out to break boundaries and explore the midbar (wilderness), it’s true. I have spent my career as the only woman rabbi, often surrounded by, or at least frequently encountering people who doubted or demeaned me as a rabbi and scholar. I have been the first woman rabbi people met, or even heard of. I lost a job due to gender. (I recently came across letters from individuals offering to support me should I choose to sue. Their praise humbled me then and humbles me now.)
Beth Tzedec is the first time I am serving in a fully egalitarian setting, the first time I am the same as other rabbis – not only in how I am respected, but in my function. I teach. I preach. I daven. I counsel. Perhaps I am safe. The community knows me. I left Beth Tzedec on very good terms, and I have been welcomed back with open arms.
Nevertheless, to hear from a colleague, from another woman who impresses me, who I believe stands as a wonderful dugma (example), not only of a female rabbi, but of a rabbi, struck me speechless. And so, I give her this, an anonymous, but public thank you. You inspire me. You impress me. You motivate me and galvanize me to reach further and to do better.