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Jewesses with Attitude

Women’s strides spotlighted this spring at Reform Movement’s graduations, ordinations

This month marks 40 years since the ordination of the first woman rabbi in America. And the Reform Movement is doing some serious celebrating.

Not only was the history-maker herself­­­ ­—Rabbi Sally Priesand—the Special Guest at the New York Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s ordination ceremony earlier this month, but Rabbi/Cantor Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian-American woman rabbi in US history, was the featured speaker.

In fact, women’s role in Jewish life and history was front and center that week, as JWA’s own Gail Reimer stepped up at graduation to accept one of the Movement’s most prestigious honors: the American Jewish Distinguished Service Award.

URJ is celebrating the 40th anniversary and the influx of women into the rabbinate that it heralded with a special page of blogs. (Don’t miss the reflections of a mother who has three daughters who are all rabbis. You can hear from the three sisters, all of whom were ordained at HUC-JIR.)

But the proof of this pudding is how the 40-year-old push for inclusion is impacting Jewish life today.

One sure sign of progress is that, of the rabbis ordained at HUC-JIR New York, Los Angeles and Cincinnati campuses this spring, nearly two-thirds are women.

Still, it’s the jobs they will fill that speak even more eloquently of real change. It wasn’t long ago that women in the rabbinate were funneled into educational and counseling functions while their brothers nabbed the pulpit jobs. 

But in recent years as congregations have slowly begun to warm to women in the role of clergy with all the functions that entails, more women are being hired.

Here too Sally Priesand has led the way, having spent her entire four-decade career as a congregational rabbi. Beginning at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, moving over to Temple Beth El in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she served Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey for more than 30 years before retiring.

As Rabbi Priesand told JWA: “My congregants and I have developed a creative partnership that reflects the traditional values of synagogue life—worship, study, assembly, and tikkun olam (repairing the world)—and my experiences as a rabbi have enriched my life in ways I never dreamed possible.”

Want to learn more about Rabbi Sally Priesand? Visit JWA’s online exhibit: Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.

Gail T. Reimer Receives the 2012 American Jewish Distinguished Service Award from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Full image

Gail T. Reimer, JWA's founder and Executive Director, accepted the 2012 American Jewish Distinguished Service Award from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion from its President Rabbi David Ellenson during the college's 2012 Commencement ceremonies.

How to cite this page

Raub, Deborah Fineblum. "Women’s strides spotlighted this spring at Reform Movement’s graduations, ordinations." 24 May 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 25, 2016) <>.


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