You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Visiting the Regina Jonas Archive at the Centrum Judaicum

by Gail Reimer

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." Several were thinking about historical memory on multiple levels—remembering, bearing witness, rethinking history. And they came to the day with varied emotions—anticipation, anxiety, optimism, seeking “internal reconciliation” and hoping to “find themselves” here.

Dr. Simon at the Regina Jonas Archive
Full image
Dr. Simon, Director of the Regina Jonas Archive, comments on a Jonas document.

The morning was packed. There didn't seem to be a street that didn't call forth a memory or piece of history from Hartmut Bonhoff, our impressively knowledgeable guide.

By the time we arrived at the Centrum Judaicum to meet with Dr. Simon, Rabbi Geisa Ederberg, and the archivist, we were eager to understand the story behind Jonas’s story—how were her papers discovered? How did they get there? What kind of interest did the discovery of her papers generate? The local team shared copies of various documents with us and also displayed originals, most significantly the copy of Jonas's ordination letter signed by Leo Baeck. This important letter elicited many questions and different readings. Rabbi Ederberg highlighted the phrases that suggested that this was not simply a private ordination but one sanctioned by the movement. Dr. Simon, on the other hand, noted that Leo Baeck's signature was a certification that the copy of the ordination certificate before him was an accurate copy. It was not, he emphasized, an authorization of Jonas's ordination.

Women Rabbis at Regina Jonas Archive
Full image
Women rabbis at an historic evening at the Regina Jonas Archive, Centrum Judaicum, New Synagogue (Orienstrasse Synagogue) in Berlin, Germany.

Rabbi Sally Priesand was moved by many similarities between her story and Jonas's. Both lost their sponsor/mentor before finishing their training. Unlike Jonas, Sally still managed to receive an institutional ordination, but, as she told us, not without significant opposition that she was unaware of at the time. When the archivist mentioned that Jonas’s argument that it is not halakhah (Jewish law) but prejudice and lack of familiarity that stands in the way of women becoming rabbis, Rabbi Priesand smiled and said, “I always said that.”  

Reflecting on our visit to Berlin's Jewish archive, Rabbi Laura Geller said that the critical takeaway for her that day was the vital importance of saved documents. While there are multiple explanations for why Regina Jonas was forgotten for more than half a century, what all can agree on is that without the small cache of documents that surfaced after the Berlin Wall fell, she probably would have been forgotten forever.

Rabbis Amy Eilberg, Sandy Sasso, and Sally Priesand, 2014
Full image
Rabbis Amy Eilberg, Sandy Sasso, and Sally Priesand spoke movingly about their paths to the Rabbinate at an evening honoring Regina Jonas in Berlin in 2014. Rabbi Sara Hurwitz joined by phone from Jerusalem.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Visiting the Regina Jonas Archive at the Centrum Judaicum." (Viewed on December 4, 2016) <https://jwa.org/rabbis/regina-jonas-remembered/visiting-regina-jonas-archive-at-centrum-judaicum>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs