I'm With Clinton, But I'm Not With Hillary

Madame Secretary Notebook, Clinton Presidential Campaign 2016

On July 28, I watched, with tears in my eyes, as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major political party. Whatever your politics—this is not a political post—it was incredible to watch another glass ceiling shatter and heartwarming to imagine what this moment will mean for all of the young girls, staying up late to hear Clinton’s speech.

But now, I have a problem. It may sound petty, but it symbolizes a much larger issue: I’m having trouble purchasing campaign swag.

After I made my first campaign donation, I clicked over to the “Shop” tab to buy buttons and bumper stickers. I browsed through t-shirts, shot glasses, and throw pillows, but I couldn’t find anything I wanted. Not because the designs weren’t great, but because most designs referred to Clinton as “Hillary.”

Clinton’s campaign chose to brand her this way, perhaps to distinguish her from her husband, or to project a softer, folksier, image, or even to capitalize on her female-ness to attract feminist voters. That may be a good strategy. But it is a strategy that grates on me.

Professionally, I go by “Rabbi Berkowitz.” Young children are invited to call me, “Rabbi B”; adults are welcome to call me by my first name in casual settings. But I am NOT “Rabbi Leah.”

This was a deliberate choice for me. I adopted the title of “Rabbi” gradually. I did not want to be called “Rabbi Berkowitz” until I had earned that right through ordination. At my first student placement, I introduced myself as “Leah,” only to learn that, when a tiny far-flung congregation flies you in from New York City every month, they want to call you “Rabbi.”

At my next placement, I went by “Rabbi Leah,” to try out the title without misrepresenting myself. I didn't like it—it felt too cute for someone in such a serious profession. Still, it seemed appropriate for the student rabbi who ran the youth group. I told everyone that, as soon as I was ordained, I would become “Rabbi Berkowitz.”  On my last pulpit visit, two weeks after ordination, the congregation honored me by making the switch.

I was told to avoid “Rabbi First Name,” because it was a microaggression (though I didn’t know that word yet) and its informality belittles women rabbis. But it’s much more complicated than that. When I worked in the South, it wasn’t uncommon to call your minister “Pastor Bob.” It was meant to be friendly, not patronizing. I tried not to let it bother me, as long as they called me the same thing they called my male colleagues. But I found it irritating: I had worked hard to become Rabbi Berkowitz. Would you call your physician Dr. Jack or your public official Councilwoman Jill?

If I, a rabbi with a measly eight years of experience, find it patronizing to be called by my first name, I can't even imagine how it feels when one is a presidential candidate! Clinton has a law degree. She has been a first lady, a United States Senator, and the Secretary of State. It may be confusing which of her titles to choose, but doesn’t she deserve to be referred to by one of her many hard-won titles, or, at the very least, by her full name?

When I arrived this summer for my faculty stint at our movement’s summer camp, I discovered that all the rabbis—including the men—had “Rabbi First Name” on their nametags. They clearly meant to make us all seem playful and accessible, but I cringed. It wasn’t until another woman rabbi had the backbone to say, “That’s not what I want to be called,” that I requested a new nametag. This, too, is a complicated act. Speaking up draws attention to the fact that I am a woman in the rabbinate, and that I am demanding to be addressed formally and respectfully. My male colleagues, perhaps more comfortable in their authority, don’t need to do that.

I recognize that Clinton’s campaign chose to brand her as “Hillary,” but I won’t be calling her that. She is an experienced professional with a long record of doing serious work, and she is “Former Secretary Clinton” to me. I wish that the public and the media would follow suit and give her the respect she deserves.

In the end, I bought a plain Clinton/Kaine sticker and buttons bearing the campaign logo. There was one thing I was especially excited to buy: a notebook embossed with the words, “Madam President.”

1 Comment
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Good article and I agree Rabbi Berkowitz. We called Bamberger, Arnold, Polish, and Golomb, Rabbi ..... you deserve the same respect! BR.

How to cite this page

Berkowitz , Leah. "I'm With Clinton, But I'm Not With Hillary." 2 August 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/im-with-clinton-but-im-not-with-hillary>.

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