Lessons from Rabbi Lauren

Photograph of 2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Josie Rosman, her mom Karen, and Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann.

All my life, I’ve been learning lessons both about the Torah and about how to live a fulfilling life from Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann at Kol Tzedek (my synagogue) in Philadelphia. From services and Torah school, to the time we spent together prepping for my bat mitzvah, Rabbi Lauren was the person who taught me how to look at Jewish texts in a new light, and turn them into something inspiring and relevant. She taught me about the concept of social justice, and how as Jews, we have a moral responsibility to make the world a better place.

While I’ve always been grateful for the lessons Rabbi Lauren has taught me, I sort of assumed that her role in my life as a teacher had come to a close when she moved from Philadelphia to New York City to become the rabbi at The Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), the oldest Reconstructionist synagogue in the country. Recently, I went up to New York to visit her and talk to her a little bit about her life, and she showed me that I was wrong–she’s still very much my teacher. During our conversation, totally inadvertently, Rabbi Lauren taught me how to be a Jewish activist.

Rabbi Lauren told me that her first insight into the connection between activism and Judaism was her family Passover celebrations growing up. These gatherings were generally lackluster, but she saw, through the annual reminder of Jews’ oppression, that we were being called on to help others facing similar struggles. Her activist identity further developed in college, and continued to grow after college when she joined the Jewish Organizing Initiative (now Join for Justice), where she learned more about how Judaism and activism are interconnected. Learning about Rabbi Lauren’s path to activism was really interesting to me. It made me realize that, despite being young, I already have the tools I need to make meaningful connections between Judaism and activism. Because of her, I feel that Judaism and activism are implicitly connected in so many ways, and I want to continue to develop my involvement in and understanding of both, just as she did.

While still in rabbinical school at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), Rabbi Lauren realized that there was no real organized Jewish space in West Philadelphia. So she, her future husband Jon, and a few friends, started the chavurah that slowly developed into the synagogue I know and love today. My synagogue is an instrumental force in my life. It’s the only synagogue I’ve been in where I truly feel spiritual and invigorated, and I simply wouldn’t have that without Rabbi Lauren.

At my synagogue, almost everyone is involved in some form of activism, and Rabbi Lauren, during her time there, both exemplified this in her own work with POWER, and supported this work by keeping people spiritually healthy and inspired through her incredible sermons and endless kindness. Growing up in my synagogue, I couldn’t help but learn the value of having a community as an activist. Rabbi Lauren’s creation of a space that supports and cultivates activism shows me that activism is an inherently Jewish, and communal, pursuit. Being an activist isn’t just about going to protests and holding signs; it’s also about supporting each other and working together as a community toward a common goal.

At SAJ, Rabbi Lauren inspires her congregants to get involved with social justice work. She often talks about how everyone can do something, and once they’re doing something, they can keep going. While she’s as horrified and frustrated by the current political situation as many of us are, she sees that the “good is that people with privilege are realizing their privilege ... and people are more open to figuring out what they can do.” Last year, she was arrested with a group of rabbis in protest of the Muslim ban. The weekend I went up to visit her, SAJ was having programming about the horrors of mass incarceration and our prison system. I think that the way Rabbi Lauren has run her synagogues is a perfect model for how a synagogue should approach social justice work, and while I was heartbroken when I first heard that Rabbi Lauren was leaving my synagogue, it’s really moving to see how she is continuing this important work with her current community and inspiring a whole new congregation.

Rabbi Lauren is my role model. She shows me that you can have a family and a career, and also work to make a difference in the world. And even if it hasn’t made her famous, or fixed every problem, it’s hugely inspiring to me how Rabbi Lauren has created real, lasting change. She’s also taught me the power that community can have in one’s activism, and how to use my privilege for good. While I like to consider myself an activist already, this conversation with Rabbi Lauren has made me want to do more. As always, Rabbi Lauren has shown me a new perspective, and given me a new goal to pursue. I cannot thank her enough for the lessons she has taught me, and I can’t wait to learn even more from my Rabbi.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Excellent, Josie! 

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How to cite this page

Rosman, Josephine. "Lessons from Rabbi Lauren." 16 May 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 28, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/lessons-from-rabbi-lauren>.