Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Leaving the school parking lot on the last Friday before we return to standard time, I see red. The leaves are finally turning colors and there is a cool breeze. I remember why November is my favorite month. It’s fall in Atlanta!
On Sunday morning I use the “extra hour” to turn over my closet from summer to fall/winter/spring clothes. And I come across the pantsuit. I bought it a few years ago, to wear to a Sisterhood event at a conservative Conservative synagogue in town, and I almost donated it last spring when we moved because I’d only worn it once. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, and it wasn’t my style.
I’m glad I saved it, though, because I’m wearing it today. I’m making a fashion statement: I honor every woman working in a male-dominated field, every woman who has to wear heels and stand on tiptoes to reach toward the glass ceiling, every woman who is paid less for working twice as hard as a male co-worker.
Today I celebrate trailblazers.
I came of age as a feminist in the mid-1980’s at Bryn Mawr College and entered rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary when there was only one female tenured professor on the faculty. In those days, it was necessary for women rabbis to wear dark suits (with shoulder pads) in order to be taken as seriously as our male colleagues. Those suits were really uncomfortable. I donated the last of them in the early 2000’s, after my third child was born and I realized I was never going to wear them again. I’d found my calling, teaching Talmud in a Jewish day school and teaching art at a Jewish summer camp, and I was delighted to wear a uniform more aligned with my fashion-sense.
Now, at fifty, I dress neatly yet comfortably and I wear sensible shoes. If I wear a dark suit to class it’s because I’m leaving school for a funeral or a meeting at the state capitol. On days I’m teaching art, I wear jeans and an apron.
While I’m at home in my rabbinate and comfortable in my own skin as a rabbi, it took me decades to get here and the journey was circuitous.
Thirty years ago, I told my origin story to an admissions committee of JTS faculty: When I was a little girl and adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always answer, “a fireman, President of the United States or a rabbi.” Inevitably the adults would laugh, since each option was equally implausible at the time, and my father would defend me, saying “my tochter [daughter] can be whatever she wants to be.” I’m sure he expected I would pursue the presidency over the rabbinate. He probably imagined the path to a career in politics would be wider and more easily traversed.
He would have been mistaken. I had few role models; Hillary Rodham Clinton had fewer.
Stepping into my pantsuit and sensible shoes, I acknowledge the professors, mentors, students, colleagues, family and friends, who have helped shape my rabbinate.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.