Establishing a Reputation
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
In 1885, with the mining industry in decline, Frank left Nevada and returned to her family in Oakland, California. While supporting herself by giving lessons in literature and elocution, she broadened her own education by enrolling in courses in philosophy at the University of California-Berkeley. She also began working in the Sabbath School of Oakland's First Hebrew Congregation, transferring her already established teaching skills to a Jewish setting.
Frank proved extremely popular as a religious-school teacher. She soon attracted a wide following of adults as well as children to her classes, to such an extent that when the rabbi and school superintendent resigned, the congregation invited her to become principal. Involvement with the Sabbath school not only gave Frank the opportunity to explore the Jewish issues that had long interested her, but it also allowed her to hone her skills as a public speaker and to begin to make a name for herself within the California Jewish community.
Frank's work as a correspondent for several San Francisco and Oakland newspapers added to her growing reputation. She also began to use letters to the editors of national Jewish publications to express her ideas about the state of American Jewry, increasing her visibility in Jewish circles. When the Jewish Messenger asked its readers "What would you do if you were a rabbi?," Frank submitted a letter expounding emphatically on what she would not do if she were a rabbi. Castigating Jewish leadership for its shallowness, insincerity, and materialism, she argued that amid the freedom and prosperity of the New World, many Jews had lost sight of the spiritual and moral bases of Judaism. She deplored the acrimony between Reform and Orthodox Jews and even broached the question of women and religious leadership, concluding with the observation that "Women are precluded from entering the Holy of Holies; but it is a great satisfaction to contemplate what we would not do were the high office not denied us."
- Quote from Ray Frank, "A Jewess on the Rabbi Question," reprinted in Jacob R. Marcus, The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History (NY: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1981), 383.
- Information about Frank's life is from Simon Litman, Ray Frank Litman: A Memoir (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1957).