The Four Female Religious Leaders Who Made Me Cry – Kveller
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The Four Female Religious Leaders Who Made Me Cry

The four inspiring women.

In the seven years since I had my first son, I can count on one hand the number of times I have done things really truly “for me.” I don’t say this so you think I am a martyr (although it has been suggested by a few people). I say this to set the stage for telling you about the third thing I did “for me” this past Monday.

As most of you (and America and the Western world) know, we practice attachment parenting and although what that looks like varies widely, in our house, the needs of our children in these formative years are often valued over our “personal” happiness and desires. So things like going to the movies (I have been to four movies in seven years), going away with girlfriends (has not happened in seven years), and luxurious vacations (has not happened in seven years) simply are not something we choose to do for now.

That being said, here are the three things I have done 100% “for me” in the past few years.

#1. I took my older son (I don’t know if it counts that he was with me but it was more because my husband didn’t want to take care of both boys and he is a wonderful little man to travel with) for the day to Denver to see The Maccabeats perform.

#2. I took my favorite Maccabeat (yes, 2/3 of my “for me” things are about The Maccabeats; deal with it) to the season finale of Survivor in New York on Mother’s Day (hey, I’m practically old enough to BE his mother, nothing wrong with spending my Mother’s Day with him).

#3. This past Monday, I flew to the Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia to see the first four women ordained as Jewish religious leaders from each denomination post-Holocaust. Why do I say “post-Holocaust?” In Germany in 1935, Regina Jonas became the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. She died in Auschwitz in 1944. May her memory be only for a blessing.

The women in attendance were: Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman ever ordained as a reform rabbi (40 years ago this week), Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist movement in 1974 and Amy Eilberg, who was ordained by the Conservative movement (in 1985). The fourth woman was Rabba Sara Hurwitz (her title was formerly Maharat) who was ordained in 2009 and is the dean of Yeshivat Maharat, an institute dedicated to educating Orthodox women to be religious leaders within the framework of halacha (Jewish law).

Most of you probably know that I now identify with the Modern Orthodox movement, but no matter your affiliation or interest level in women as rabbis, this night was absolutely astounding for so many reasons historically, religiously, and emotionally. I will try and list the most prominent for me.

1. Coexistence. To see members of all denominations of Judaism share a stage so graciously was a wonderful example of decorum, civility, and positive discourse, despite some very fundamental and significant differences in how they view religious life and leadership. Take note, men!

2. Beyond Bravery. To hear the journeys of women who, some in their teenage years, dreamed to be something no one else in the world was, was so powerful. How many 16-year-olds have dreams that we don’t consider seriously? What would I have done in 1962 if my daughter told me she wanted to be a rabbi!? It is unfathomable. Brave does not begin to sum up these women.

3. Challenges. To hear the challenges faced personally and professionally was very moving. I got the chills and started to cry with each of their stories at some point; whether it was the first time they felt accepted (being asked to officiate at a funeral when they thought they never would be able to serve the community that way), the first time they talked to someone wanting to commit suicide while also cooking dinner and taking care of two young children, or the decision to have kids, not have kids, get married, not get married, etc. These women accepted their challenges proudly and unwaveringly. They had such conviction and strength. I was deeply inspired.

4. Accepting Differences. Rabba Sara (who I am sort of in awe of all of the time) consistently demonstrates her allegiance and love for Orthodoxy and the halachic system while sitting graciously among women who likely do not fully support her decision to live within the halachic restrictions that exist for women. Rabba Sara declared that she “stands on the shoulders” of the three rabbis who shared the stage with her; women who hold the title “Rabbi,” can sign a ketubah (marriage contract), be part of a Beit Din (Jewish court), and can be counted in a minyan, none of which Rabba Sara can do or be. But what she did so elegantly was to affirm her position while honoring theirs. So classy. Take note, men!

Not one of these women were flippant, condescending, confrontational, or nasty. They never laughed off difficult questions or claimed that anything was too difficult to tackle. All exhibited seriousness and levity where appropriate. All were very learned and modest. And although it is not necessary to mention, I know everyone is interested: three wore long skirts and long sleeves with little or no makeup or jewelry, and Rabbi Eisenberg Sasso (who is a fantastic storyteller and needs her own talk show) wore loose slacks and a really fun leather jacket with light makeup. (I totally have to mention that Rabba Sara, who is a generation younger than the other three, wore killer platform shoes. Seriously. She’s awesome.)

I honor the courage, struggles, scholarship, and role in Jewish history that these four women represent. It was a fantastic evening and one I will never forget.

What will the fourth thing that I do “for me” be? Time will tell.

How about one of the Maccabeats being elected President of the United States?

Fingers crossed. Stranger things have happened.

For more Mayim, read up on her thoughts about women, religion, and sex, her quest to dress modestly in Hollywood, and spending time away from her kids.

Photo credit: George Bilyk, courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

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