“I like Rabbi Prosnit’s colorful socks,” said a congregant during last week’s synagogue program. This comment was a response to one of our panelist’s statements that whenever she wears the color pink or has a new outfit, a congregant usually remarks on her clothing, yet rarely do her male colleagues receive comments about their attire. She is absolutely right. Rarely does anyone say anything about my ties, shoes, or sweaters, though occasionally, I do get comments about my colorful socks.
Last week, our congregation organized a program titled The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate in anticipation of the release of the new book with the same title from the CCAR Press. We were privileged to welcome co-editor of the book, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein-Schorr, who facilitated a dialogue with three rabbis from our Temple community, Rabbis Ellen Lewis, Mary Zamore, and Sarah Smiley. The four rabbis took part in a candid conversation, sharing reflections about their education at HUC-JIR, the challenges they have faced as leaders of congregations, and the continued work that synagogues and our Movement need to undertake for women rabbis.
During the conversation, I discovered that the language on my smicha is different than my female colleagues. (Rabbi Mary Zamore has written an article about this in the forthcoming book.) My appreciation deepened for my Temple Emanu-El predecessors’ hard work to create a strong family leave policy at our congregation. I became more aware of the uncomfortable, funny, and challenging conversations that my colleagues have, and continue to have, because of their gender.
Yet, the biggest takeaway for me was the importance of this conversation for our congregants. For many in attendance, particularly our younger Temple members, they never knew the struggle that women rabbis had to go through to establish themselves in their careers. It was an eye-opening conversation as well as an opportunity for self-reflection for our congregants on how they may treat their rabbis differently depending on their gender. People were so drawn in by the stories from our rabbis that they did not want to leave.
I am extremely excited for the release of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate and look forward to using the book in our adult education, confirmation, and b’nai mitzvah programs. This book will be a great tool to share the legacy and history of our first women rabbis and also a way to spark conversations with our congregants. I hope that our discussions will transcend colorful socks and a new outfit and will help to create a rabbinate that is fair and equitable for all.
Rabbi Ethan Prosnit serves Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ.
To pre-order your copy of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate visit our website.