This summer in New York City, more than 100 gathered in the prayer space of Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion to hear testimony on the how women’s roles in the rabbinate have evolved over the past 40 years. The room’s stained glass panels echoed the stained glass ceiling women rabbis have pushed against. Three panelists—from different generations, with unique experiences and diverse paths to the pulpit—explained how far the Reform Movement has come since Sally Priesand was ordained in 1972. Rabbi Priesand, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr and Rabbi Leah Berkowitz also noted how far the Jewish community still has to go for women rabbis to achieve full equality and normativity. The situations that Rabbis Priesand, Schorr, and Berkowitz described can serve as a guiding light for many other previously silenced populations, including transgender and gender-queer rabbis.
Rabbi Priesand revealed that becoming the first woman rabbi was never her intention. She simply wanted to be a rabbi. But since there were no women before her, she concluded she would have to be the first.