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Rabbis

Honoring the Real First Woman Rabbi

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.

German Leaders Speak Out Against Anti-Semitism

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.

Connecting Across the Divide

The first of the historic events that marked our trip took place on the second evening at Berlin’s Centrum Judaicum. For the first time, the pioneering American women rabbis who were the first to be ordained by their denominations joined with their counterparts in Europe in a public forum to talk about their journeys to the rabbinate and experiences as rabbis. Or that was the plan.

Laura Geller

As one of the first women rabbis, Laura Geller pushed for women’s greater inclusion in both Jewish liturgy and Jewish leadership.

Visiting the Regina Jonas Archive at the Centrum Judaicum

Our trip officially began Tuesday morning with participants sharing key words or phrases that captured the ideas, feelings, or intentions with which they were embarking on the first day. Some focused on Regina Jonas—honoring her, standing on her shoulders. Others spoke more generally about women, noting their interest in the "place of women in different worlds," or "a passion for women." And they came to the day with varied emotions—anticipation, anxiety, optimism, seeking “internal reconciliation” and hoping to “find themselves” here.

The "Lost" Story of Regina Jonas

A major theme of our shared JWA/AJA journey is the recovery of the lost narrative of Regina Jonas. We are here in the company of America’s pioneering women rabbis to bring Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas back into the story we tell of them and those who followed.

Confronting Germany

I have never been to Germany before, and this is no accident. My mother, who lost extended family members in the Holocaust, raised me not to buy German products. I do not walk on the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, for it is sacred. I did not go to Germany, because it was the very opposite of sanctity. The sound of the German language made me cringe; it was the sound of the Nazis. But over the decades, I had come to be in relationship with young Germans who were profoundly remorseful about the Holocaust. I was ready to explore a new personal relationship with the German people, and to travel there when the right opportunity presented itself. This trip is that opportunity.

"We Who Are Her Successors": Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas

Our knowledge about Rabbi Regina Jonas has been limited. I had heard that she was ordained in Berlin, her thesis was on whether women could be rabbis, and that she had died during the Holocaust. I was intrigued, but there was not much more information to fill in the blank spaces. This trip has opened up a wealth of material about her life, her vision and her contributions.

Before the Plane Trip, A Personal Journey

For many years, I resisted going to Germany or Eastern Europe, but when I learned about this trip to Berlin and Prague, I spoke without thinking: “I’d really like to go on that journey.”

Reflecting now on that immediate response (and the fact that I didn’t have second thoughts afterward), I’ve learned a few things about what has changed and what has crystallized for me, individually and, I think, as a member of my generation.

Sandy Sasso

Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was the first woman rabbi ordained by the Reconstructionist movement, which was one of many firsts in her career.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rabbis." (Viewed on August 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/rabbis>.

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