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"We Who Are Her Successors": Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas

by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Our knowledge about Rabbi Regina Jonas has been limited. I had heard that she was ordained in Berlin, her thesis was on whether women could be rabbis, and that she had died during the Holocaust. I was intrigued, but there was not much more information to fill in the blank spaces. This trip has opened up a wealth of material about her life, her vision and her contributions.

The trip is taking place just two months after the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of my ordination. Over the years, you do what you love and you forget that any of it is history. Then you realize that history was being made, and that much of it was not recorded. We have only one photograph of Rabbi Regina Jonas. This trip is an opportunity to create a fuller picture of her life and to honor and celebrate her pioneering contributions.

It is also an occasion to celebrate how far we have come in regard to women’s participation in Jewish life. Rabbi Jonas could have been the first and the last woman rabbi, but she wasn’t. She was the first in a long chain that continues. She may not have known it at the time, but she started what would become a revolution. We, who are her successors, owe her our gratitude and our voice.

I am struck by an article that Rabbi Jonas wrote describing why she became a rabbi. The words still resonate today.

“I hope a time will come for all of us in which there will be no more questions of the subject of “woman”; for as long as there are questions, something is wrong. But if I must say what drove me as a woman to become a rabbi, two elements come to mind: My belief in my godly calling and my love for people. God has placed abilities and callings in our hearts without regard to gender. Thus each of us has a duty, whether man or woman, to realize those gifts God has given. If you look at things this way, one takes woman and man for what they are: human beings.” 

This was written in June 1938. It is wisdom for today.

Reflecting on these words, we might say the following: Each of us has a duty to realize those gifts God has given. If you look at things this way, one takes Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox for what they are: Jews. We travel on this journey together as Jews. How wonderful to be able to join with Sally, Amy, and Sarah, distinguished colleagues and dear friends in remembering Rabbi Regina Jonas. 

Rabbi Sandy Sasso, first Reconstructionist woman rabbi.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. ""We Who Are Her Successors": Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas." (Viewed on December 10, 2023) <https://jwa.org/rabbis/regina-jonas-remembered/we-who-are-her-successors>.


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