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Not A Rabbi, But A “Religious Mentor”

Sara Hurwitz, 30, is the religious mentor at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York. The paid position was created by the synagogue’s rabbi, Avi Weiss, to empower women in a maledominated structure where prayer is gender-segregated. Though women cannot lead prayers or chant from the Torah, the reader’s platform (bimah) is accessible from the women’s section. This unusual innovation allows Hurwitz to ascend the bimah to give a discourse on the reading to the entire congregation and then resume her place in the women’s section without walking through the men’s seats.

“My role is similar to a rabbi,” said Hurwitz, a Barnard College graduate who studied Jewish texts for three years at New York’s Drisha Institute. “I teach and answer questions pertaining to religious observance. But the biggest part of my job is being a presence and helping women feel a sense of ownership over the service.”

After four years, Hurwitz senses a big change. “The women’s section sings louder and feels its place in the sanctuary,” she said. “They feel more comfortable asking me certain questions than asking the rabbi.”

From Women’s E-News, July 13, 2007