Kolot: Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies
Kolot, the first Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies at a rabbinical school, transformed rabbinical training by incorporating the insights of gender theory into Jewish studies, recovering the voices and experiences of Jewish women. From 1996 to 2010, Kolot functioned as an academic center, furthering scholarship and training Jewish leaders. Its activist program, in collaboration with other Jewish feminist organizations, created innovative trans-denominational projects, including Ritualwell.org, a website of contemporary Jewish lifecycle and holiday rituals and liturgy, and Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing. Kolot offered certification in Jewish Women’s Studies with Temple University and sponsored learning series on Gender and Judaism in cities around the country and in Israel.
Kolot, which grew out of what had been the Jewish Women’s Study Project (JWSP) at The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), was a pioneering experiment in advancing gender equality and inclusion in Jewish life and scholarship. From its inception in 1990, JWSP worked at RRC to include the field of women’s studies in the curriculum and to offer co-curricular programs that reflected women’s place in Judaism. In 1996, with the hiring of its first director (Lori Lefkovitz), the Kolot Center was created, and in 2000 Kolot’s director was appointed to the newly endowed Sadie Gottesman and Arlene Gottesman Reff Chair in Judaism and Gender Studies, the first endowed chair in the field.
From 1996 to 2010, Kolot functioned as an academic center, furthering scholarship and training rabbis and other Jewish leaders. Its activist program generated innovative trans-denominational projects, including Ritualwell.org, a website of contemporary Jewish lifecycle and holiday rituals and liturgy; Ritualwell was initially developed with the New York-based feminist center Ma’yan and is now under the auspices of RRC. Kolot offered a certificate in Jewish Women’s Studies with Temple University, co-sponsored a feminist scholars circle, provided speakers on feminism and Judaism, and sponsored learning series nationally and in Israel. Kolot presented a “Kolot Award” and a “Kol Isha Award” to women who made extraordinary contributions to the Jewish community.
Following a groundbreaking conference on “Food, Body Image, and Judaism” in May 1998, Kolot developed a curriculum and piloted Kolot’s Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!, a uniquely flexible program that fosters the self-esteem and Jewish identity of adolescent girls through monthly celebrations of Rosh Hodesh, a program now promulgated by Moving Traditions.
Kolot transformed rabbinical training by recovering the voices and experiences of Jewish women and incorporating the insights of gender theory into Jewish studies. The Center also advanced scholarship in the fields of Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies through teaching, publications, and conferences. Kolot’s college programming committee sponsored workshops and other special services keyed to an annual theme, such as “Gender in the Rabbinate,” “Jewish Feminist Men,” and “Gender and the Arts.” Kolot hosted the annual Wenkart Writer-in-Residence and Kolot’s Beckerman Fund purchased books for the RRC library to maintain a state-of-the-field collection in Jewish women’s and gender studies. Kolot’s pastoral training programs focused on such issues as domestic violence in the Jewish community; Kolot’s Ta’anit Esther program focused on international women’s issues, such as sex trafficking and the plight of Afghani women.
Kolot’s founding board included Rabbi Margot Stein, Juliet Spitzer, Barbara Dobkin, and Sally Gottesman, who was chair.