I believe in cosmic influences: I believe that we influence the cosmos, that we influence the world. I believe that what we do matters. Our lives, our actions, our words, even our thoughts can make a difference. Together we can change the world.
I did not become a rabbi to sell Judaism. I became a rabbi because I believe in the meaning and power of prayer and the presence of God in our lives. I did not become a rabbi to be a politician or social worker. I became a rabbi because I believe in the power of religious community to overcome the culture in which we find ourselves, the culture of despair.
I certainly did not become a rabbi as the result of positive childhood experiences. After eight years of three-days-a-week Hebrew school, I was still ignorant of Jewish history and experience, illiterate in Torah, and distant from God. With bat mitzvah I was given no sense that Judaism had anything meaningful to do with the adult world, that Judaism might inform my decisions or provide comfort or inspiration. In later years, brilliant teachers revealed to me the profound depth of Jewish tradition. I became a rabbi because I believe in the power of teaching to change a life and to change the world.
Feminism had a huge impact on my choice to become a rabbi. When I became bat mitzvah in 1972, no women had yet been ordained as rabbis. Thirteen years later, when I entered rabbinical school, a generation of women had broken those barriers. I stand on their shoulders and on the shoulders of many others who demanded that Judaism listen to women’s voices. I believe that Judaism was diminished without the religious leadership of women. I believe in the power of women to change an often-stubborn religious tradition. I believe in the power of women to change the world. But women must do more than repeat what men have been doing all along. Feminism requires me to ask the harder questions about the very nature of Judaism. I never wanted to be simply a female rabbi. I want to be a part of a Judaism that is transformed by feminism.
Sharon Kleinbaum has been Senior Rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) since 1992. Under her leadership, CBST has become an important voice in Judaism, in the world-wide discourse on the nature of religious community, and in the movement to secure basic civil rights for gay people everywhere. Rabbi Kleinbaum’s education and experience cut across all varieties of contemporary Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular activist. She received her ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990. Raised in a family of social activists, Rabbi Kleinbaum’s own social action career began in college. She led protests against Barnard’s investments in South Africa and against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. As a human rights advocate – for blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, Palestinians – she has been jailed, arrested, vilified, and lauded. From the time her first niece and nephew were born to the graduations of her two grown daughters, children have been central in Rabbi Kleinbaum’s life. Of all her accomplishments, these children are among her proudest.
On December 10, 2012, a tribute video was released by filmmaker David Sigal to honor the 20th anniversary of Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. The video can be viewed at http://youtu.be/372aEb8n45Q.
To see enhanced versions of these objects, please access the multimedia version of this page.