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Rabbi Sally J. Priesand, North America’s first female rabbi, who was ordained in 1972 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, was the scholar in residence at Temple Kol Ami in Thornhill, Ontario, on May 6-7.
Rabbi Priesand, who served as spiritual leader of the Monmouth Reform Temple in New Jersey from 1981 until her retirement in 2006, addressed the Thornhill congregation three times. The lectures were titled “Reflections on My Life as a Rabbi,” “Why I Am a Reform Jew,” and “Remembering Rabbi Regina Jonas,” the first female rabbi who was ordained in Germany in 1935 before dying in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Priesand spoke to The CJN in advance of her visit about pursuing her dream and how Jewish feminism has evolved.
Having paved the way for hundreds of other women who have since followed in your footsteps, in the 44 years since you were ordained, how have things evolved for women who dream of becoming Jewish leaders?
Things have definitely evolved. I’ll talk about some of the things we’ve learned and how Jewish feminism has impacted the Jewish community. I’m happy to say that in the Reform movement, there are more than 700 female rabbis, and I would say, probably, in all of Judaism, all the movements, there are well over 1,000 throughout the world.
When I was in rabbinical school, there were 35 men in my class and me. I had no mentors per se, and I had no female mentors, so I had no role models, and that has changed drastically today. I think that’s very positive.