gender equality

Definitions of Feminism

By all accounts, I was the least likely person to edit a book about women rabbis. Until recently, I recoiled at the very thought of being considered a feminist. “I am an equalist,” I would argue whenever anyone suggested otherwise. To me, being a feminist required an automatically-renewing subscription to Ms. Magazine (and/or Lilith for those of the Mosaic persuasion), a library filled with Erica Jong, Betty Friedan, Simone De Beauvior, and Naomi Wolf, and a predisposition to sense misogyny lurking beneath every statement uttered by a man. When I was invited to join the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), I declined. I had found the gatherings too strident for my taste. (Plus I was certain they would kick me out for my non-feminist sensibilities.)

I grew up in a shul that embraced egalitarianism even before that became a watchword of the Reform movement. In 1983, just ahead of being called to Torah as a bat mitzvah, I asked my parents about wearing a tallit, which was not the custom at the time. Not because it wasn’t permitted – but because no one had ever given it much thought. Once the issue was raised, it became minhag. Our shul’s liturgy included the matriarchs, and women were granted the same access to Torah, learning, and every other aspect of communal Jewish life as the men. Our rabbi happened to be male and our cantor happened to be female and at no time did it occur to me or my classmates that gender had anything to do with their positions. To say the gender issues was not on my radar would be an accurate assessment.Sacred Calling cover

During my second year at HUC, a prominent woman rabbi came to speak to our Practical Rabbinic class. She was among the first generation of women rabbis and, having grown up in the Conservative Movement, had experienced a great deal of gender bias both personally and professionally. She talked about the institutional misogyny that existed in Judaism and how women were kept out of the story by patriarchal leadership dating back to Talmudic times. When I explained that my experience had been very different, she told me that I was suffering from so much trauma that I had clearly blocked out my own pain and sense of disenfranchisement. I wondered if forgotten marginalization still counted and the answer, from the aforementioned rabbi, was a resounding yes.

As many women rabbinical students before and after me, I was routinely asked to speak to synagogues and at other venues about what it was like to be a female rabbinic student. Each invitation rankled. I did not want to qualify my experience based solely on my gender; I wanted to talk about being a rabbinical student. Stam. And so I would begin each talk with “Since I’ve only ever been a woman, my rabbinical school experience is both all about being a women and nothing about being a women. And I can only pray that the day may come when we no longer need to have this conversation.”

More than twenty years have passed since I began rabbinical school. Sadly, that day has still not come. Over the years, people have said things to me that they would NEVER say to one of my male colleagues. Women rabbis make less than our male counterparts. And other types of institutional gender bias does still exist.

In immersing myself in The Sacred Calling over these past few years prior to publication, my own definition of feminism has been radically altered. I carry with me the myriad stories about the women who struggled to find their place in the chain of our Rabbinic tradition, the many positive changes that have occurred in contemporary liberal Judaism as a result, and the necessary work required to bring about full equality for all those who have a place within our sacred community. While my childhood did not, as it turns out, cause any trauma, I can no longer reject the Truth of other people’s experiences. We are, and have always been, a part of the narrative. The Sacred Calling is one way to ensure that our stories are heard; I invite you to read it and share it with your community.

By the way, I am now a card-carrying member of the WRN, and eagerly anticipate each new issue of Lilith.

Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is the editor of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate.

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Interactions: CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission

Anyone who has ever planned a trip knows that a great deal of time and effort is involved. This emergency solidarity mission took us across this country over the five days and provided opportunities to hear from a variety of experts including four Members of Knesset. And without exception, every one of these meetings was of great value.

Just as our Tradition teaches us that there is meaning in the white spaces of the black letters in the Torah, sometimes our most profound experiences occur not in the scheduled instances but in the spontaneous ones. The unplanned interactions were, for me, the most meaningful moments of this trip.

Israel is a tiny country. And with mandatory army service, it is impossible to not know someone who is currently involved in the conflict. A brother. A son. A nephew. The friend of the son of a friend.  Doesn’t matter if you are hotel maintenance or a Member of Knesset. And more than three weeks into Operation Protective Edge, everyone has his or her own personal experience with sirens or dashing into a shelter. No one is immune to the constant threats.

This is what we came to do: to listen. Not to pontificate. Or speculate. Not to solve. Or to advise. But to listen. To really listen.

IMG_2099In Ashkelon, we met some soldiers while shopping for the Lone Soldier Center: In Memory of Michael Levin, whose yahrtzeit was just this week. While our task to buy supplies for the Lone Soldiers was admirable, we had actual soldiers right in front of us. So we introduced ourselves. We told them who we were and why we had come to Israel right in the midst of the war. They told us that they were combat mechanics charged with fixing the tanks and other vehicles coming out of Gaza. We asked them what could we buy that would be the most beneficial.

“Headlamps,” they said. So that they could use both hands to work in the dark.

So we did. We purchased headlamps. For their entire unit.

And we listened. And looked at photos of their wives and their children. And, after taking pictures so that their buddies would believe that a crazy group of Reform rabbis had come all the way from the United States just to be there in that moment and buy them new headlamps, reluctantly we parted.

Days later, we learned that “our” unit had been the one tasked with fixing the tread on a tank damaged in Gaza. Our headlamps were being put to good use.

Over and over, we told people why we had come now. Why, when common sense ought to send us running in the opposite direction, our emotions prevailed and brought us to Israel.

“How long have you been here?” asked Dror, the taxi driver.

“Just a week.”

“Those huge bags for just a week?” he laughed.

“They were filled with things I brought for the soldiers. Now they are mostly empty.”

His eyes glistened. As he whispered, “thank you.”

Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is the editor of the CCAR Newsletter.

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CCAR Israel Solidarity Trip: Fearful Is Not the Same as Not Feeling Safe

From Monday, the first day of the CCAR Israel Solidarity Trip.

Fearful is not the same as not feeling safe.

Wise words from our tour guide, Uri.

Wise because he gave us permission to acknowledge our feelings.


I feel safe.

I know what to do in the event of a siren.

I know that we will avoid any truly dangerous situations.

And I know that, statistically speaking, I have a better chance of winning the lottery than being killed by an incoming rocket.


But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had moments of worry.

Of concern.

Of fear.

Fear of being awakened from a deep sleep by a siren.

Or being in the shower during a siren.

Which, when the particulars are stripped away, are really a fear of being alone. Of being vulnerable.


In the secure staircase during an air raid siren.

Today, in Ashkelon, the siren sounded.

On a gorgeous, bright day.

While we were in a session in one of the loveliest apartments I have ever seen with a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea.


The siren sounded and I wasn’t afraid.

We walked calmly to the stairwell which was right next to the apartment.

Neither alone nor vulnerable.

I was not afraid.


And then it was over. We returned to the apartment and our dialogue.

It was over and we were OK.

I was OK.


Even the slightest bit relieved.

Because all day I was waiting.

Waiting for the siren.

Standing on the edge of Sderot, we could see the tanks.

We could hear their fire.

We saw the rockets as they headed into Gaza.

I had been waiting for the proverbial other shoe.

So that when it finally happened, the fear of the unknown was released.


A second siren about fifteen minutes later.

Neither alone nor vulnerable.

I was not afraid.

Rabbi Schorr is part of the CCAR Solidarity Trip to Israel.