By Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, October 2013
When I was ordained in 1985, women rabbis were still rather rare. I was the first woman rabbi in every congregation I served in the 1980s, and in most cases I was the first and only woman rabbi in that city. I looked to the women who preceded me as my role models and gave them credit for opening the doors to full equality in congregational life through which I was honored to enter.
Now that I am working with Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), the affiliate of lay-women of the Reform Movement, I realize that much of that credit was misplaced. To be sure, the women who were ordained in the 70s crossed that rabbinic threshold with a great deal of difficulty and, in doing so, they made it easier for me to succeed. But long before there were women rabbis, there were women in congregational life who unlocked the doors and opened them just wide enough for us to walk through.
For a hundred years, WRJ women have worked to bring women fully and equally into religious life. Each ‘first’ cracked that door open a little wider: the first woman to step onto her congregation’s bima, the first woman to lead worship in her community, the first to chant from the Torah, the first to create liturgy with a woman’s voice. They bravely ‘leaned in’ and secured a place for women in congregational life that would eventually lead to my ordination. They were stalwart advocates for women’s ordination and they did not relent until women had full access to every aspect of congregational life and leadership. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
It is no surprise that WRJ continues its efforts to bring about full equality for women in religious life by supporting Women of the Wall, worshipping with them, advocating for their cause, and joining with WOW and others to seek a robust pluralistic Israeli society. Just as Women of Reform Judaism did not relent until women could be ordained, we will not cease our efforts until women achieve full equality in Israeli society, on and off the bima.
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is the Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism.