This October marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. Born in Berlin in 1902, Jonas began talking to friends about her desire to become a rabbi when she was still a teen, and later studied under Eduard Banath, who oversaw ordination for the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal, nondenominational seminary in Berlin. But when Banath died in 1930, Jonas struggled to find another rabbi willing to ordain her. She argued brilliantly for the possibility of women becoming rabbis and eventually won over Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis, in 1935.
I did not choose to be sweet. Sweet was assigned to me at birth: my name, Mitali, literally translates from Hindi to “sweetness.” For most of my life, I was called “sweet” almost incessantly; praised for being generous, nurturing and selfless. I would blush, stare at the floor demurely, and giggle a “thank you” in return. In reality though, this made me feel more like a well-behaved puppy than it felt like a testament to my character.
“Kineret, do not feel like you have to be nice to everyone all the time. It will get you into trouble,” my mother told me in my early adolescence. It was her version of “the talk”: the imparting of wisdom from mother to daughter, wisdom that is only achieved over time and through many challenging experiences.
Summer 2014 shook us out of our slumber. The immigration rhetoric of empty promises and Congressional inaction had become numbing until we saw the desperation in the women’s eyes and fear in the faces of the children at the U.S. Mexico border. The image of 8-year-old Alejandro, alone, gripping a water bottle and facing the border patrol officer with a clip board stopped many of us on our tracks. How could this be happening in the U.S.? Why now?
It ain’t easy being a feminist sports fan.
Sure, we’ve got Mo’ne Davis and Serena Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Hope Solo, but it’s still a man’s world. The news headlines related to sports stars’ personal lives often bring up the cold hard truth: sports and feminism are a tough combination to make work.
I began writing this blogpost by typing, "When someone like Joan Rivers dies..."
Then I quickly backspaced. Joan would have been furious with me: someone like Joan Rivers? "Please", she'd say, "there's never been anyone like me."
This week, JWA is celebrating it's 18th birthday (woo-hoo!) by revisiting some of our most popular blog posts over the years. Each post will be identified by the label "Greatest Hits," for the month of September. We'll talk about Jewish hair, learn how to make teiglach, and meet Steampunk Emma Goldman. Enjoy this walk down memory lane, and don't forget to wish JWA a happy birthday!
Honey is an integral element on the Rosh Hashanah table and in thinking about what to write about for my posts about foods to serve during the upcoming New Year celebrations, I knew I had to include a dish in which the main ingredient consisted of this golden sweetener.
Jewish women are hot right now. According to an article in the men’s magazine Details, “Jewish women have become the ethnic fetish du jour.” And in true men’s magazine fashion, Christopher Noxon revels in the opportunity to eroticize and exoticize Jewish women; using dehumanizing terms like “cultural mutt” and “JILF,” meaning “Jew I’d like to…”—you get the idea.
The words of Regina Jonas continue to resonate with today’s rabbis. This past summer, at the dedication of a memorial plaque to Regina Jonas at Terezin by the United States Commision for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad, the first four American women rabbis honored their foremother Regina Jonas by reading the passages from her writings excerpted below.
As we mark the 70th anniversary of Regina Jonas' death, we encourage you to incorporate her story into your sermons and teachings for Shabbat Bereishit and the holidays.
Here are some ideas to get you started!
“I am not the ideal Jewish woman,” Joan Rivers admits in a comedy act filmed in the Jewish Women’s Archive film, Making Trouble. “I love to take [my audience] to the edge,” she says. “I love to get them upset . . . And ruin their value system.” Known for her aggressiveness and her “unkosher” bawdy style, in critic Sarah Cohen’s words, Rivers (nee Joan Molinsky), Phi Beta Kappa Barnard graduate and daughter of a Brooklyn Jewish doctor, performed for over forty years.
It’s the time of the year for new beginnings, and many schools and universities are starting the 2014-2015 academic year this week. My alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, annually hosts Convocation, a welcoming ceremony celebrating new students and the graduating class with music, speeches by the College President among other esteemed professors and guests, and a picnic. Some of my fondest memories from my four years at MHC are from Convocations, but it looks like this year’s ceremony has left all of the others in the dust.
I met my mother-in-law, Aileen Patricia Dogherty, during my winter break from graduate school in December 1988. My then boyfriend (now husband), John Sinclair, was quite nervous, as I had invited myself to Key Largo to spend time with him and his parents over our long vacation. As a practicing non-Jew, he had never been exposed to anybody inviting themselves over, let alone to his parents’ historically no-Jews-allowed fishing club.
Ron Ashkenas’ recent post for Forbes about Labor Day has me feeling unsettled, and I finally know why. In his article, Ashkenas explains that the “real purpose [of Labor Day] was to serve as a tribute to the working class — the men and women whose physical, and largely manual, labor had built the country.” He goes on to bemoan (as we have in the past) how the meaning of Labor Day has been lost in end-of-summer soirees and all-American barbeques. So far, I’m totally onboard with his argument. We should find more meaningful ways to commemorate the people who built this country, brick by brick.
Each week during JWA’s Thursday morning staff meeting, we sit around our conference room table and share “Words on the Street”—tidbits, stories, and anecdotes that we’ve heard from various places in the JWA community. This week, as Gail Reimer’s tenure as Executive Director comes to an end, we dedicate a blog post to words from our staff honoring the vision and commitment of our leader, colleague, and friend. We invite you to share your words and stories about Gail and JWA in the comments below.
Dear Kate is an underwear company that I first heard about this morning. The company’s founder is a former chemical engineer named Julie Sygiel who felt betrayed by her leaky underwear—yes, Dear Kate was created to make better period panties. The company is run by four women, and their website is full of words like “technology” “revolutionary” and “real women.” I arrived at said website because my friend sent me Dear Kate’s latest ad campaign and it really rubbed me the wrong way. All of my mixed feelings about using feminism in advertising—a trend that has rapidly gathered steam over the last few months—came to a head. This was BAD. I hated it. It pissed me off.
“This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit, which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people.”
If you had to guess who this epitaph belonged to, who would you choose? Lillian Wald? Dorothy Height?
Nearly every Jewish woman is familiar with the stereotype of the Jewish American Princess (JAP). You probably went to camp or high school or college with that girl, you know, the one who got a nose job the summer before eleventh grade, or the one who talked loudly about her tour of Europe over winter break. Even if you’re not really the jappy type, whenever you acted remotely bratty or spoiled, there it was: someone telling you to stop acting like a JAP.
Lauren Bacall was one of the first female actors who showed audiences that female confidence was incredibly attractive. Her characters didn’t need to be saved by the leading man, they could take care of themselves just fine, thanks. There’s a scene in To Have and Have Not, when the police are interrogating her and Bogart, and one of the officers slaps Bacall across the face. She hardly blinks an eye at the attack, doesn’t falter or faint, and doesn’t need someone else to defend her.
I am not going to lie, this one has hit me pretty hard. As a comedian who grew up watching Mork and Mindy and left for college the same time he yelled out “Carpe Diem,” today I am mourning the loss of a man I never knew. I just cannot seem to figure out how he knew me so very well.
In my neighborhood, Sikhs hand out free cold drinks on certain Saturdays. They do this on important days in Sikh history to raise awareness of their beliefs—the water bottles and cans of Coke are accompanied by small printed brochures detailing Sikh practices and culture.
In Terezin, the US Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad sponsored the dedication of a plaque as a memorial. A day before traveling to Terezin, we saw Regina's papers, a small pile that must have been all that survived of a much larger collection. We stared at a photograph of her, the sole image that remained. In the formal portrait, she wore a rabbinic robe and her young face was dignified and serious. I yearned for photographs of her teaching, laughing, and loving, images of a full life. But there were none.
For nearly thirty years I have had the good fortune to carry the title “first woman rabbi ordained in the Conservative Movement.” I have carried the designation with pride, at the same time knowing that I was a relative newcomer to the world of “first women rabbis.” After all, Rabbi Sally Priesand (the first woman Reform rabbi, ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972) and Rabbi Sandy Sasso (the first woman Reconstructionist rabbi, ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974) had preceded me by many years. Only this week did I come to know my forbear, Rabbi Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained a rabbi.
Just days before leading German newspapers called for an end to hatred against Jews, our group heard from two German dignitaries who were deeply concerned about the new wave of anti-Semitism infusing protests against Israel’s operations in Gaza. Both MP Volker Beck and Sybilla Bendig of the Foreign Office were clearly shocked by slogans and chants they didn’t think possible in postwar Germany.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on October 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.