A little more than a month ago I received an email that read: “Hello Rabbi Pollack, Once again I am writing you about my quest of meeting all the female Rabbis that contributed to the Women’s Torah Commentary . So far I have met 36 Rabbis and look forward to meeting you. I am going to be in your area the first week of July 2012 and was hoping that you would be available to meet with me and sign my book…. Bonny Katz.”
As it happened this week I am serving on faculty at our regional URJ camp, GUCI, so when Bonny and her husband Ian drove through, they honored me my stopping here to meet and I signed her book. This is a quest she has been on for quite some time. It’s not easy to meet up with 54 female rabbis who live all across North America. I was really thrilled and honored to be a part of Bonny’s quest. It has been very exciting to be a part of a Torah commentary that has all female rabbinic contributors. And as one of the writers, I hope to be able to inspire women and men, with our teachings on the parashiot.
At camp this session our theme is “Partners with God”. We’ve been looking at this from many aspects, and one of the shiurim (lessons) this week that particularly resonated with our campers is the concept of what it means to be a leader and a role model. We examined the idea of being a great leader, but not a great role model, and what it takes to be a role model, from a Jewish perspective, not just in the Torah, but how we can strive to live our own lives as role models.
As rabbis, naturally, we are expected to be role models, in all aspects, not just in Jewish practice, but in everything that we do. One of the great things about being at camp is that I sit with campers in programs, at meals, in shiur, and get out there and do activities with them in the camp setting, not in an office, or behind a desk. We’re all sweating together this week in shorts and t-shirts in the 100 degree heat, we’re dancing at song session, and cheering, praying together, eating together, and having conversations that are meaningful and important – about God and Judaism, and what it means to be a Jew today, especially in places where there aren’t many other Jewish kids in their schools. The other night I led a lights out program for cabin 3. I brought my guitar and sang some of my favorite songs, and the girls asked me questions – how long have you been a rabbi, what is the scariest thing that ever happened to you, what is your favorite camp song, who are your role models. The kinds of questions that maybe they don’t ask their own rabbi at home, but here at camp, these are the important questions.
The girls of cabin 3 didn’t seem at all surprised to have a female rabbi doing their lights out program, probably because they see both female and male rabbis at camp every year. It’s something that I still find amazing, because when I was their age, there weren’t many female rabbis at all. In Tefillah (worship services) this week, I’ve also been reflecting on how much stayed the same and how much has changed. We are singing many of the same melodies for prayers that we sang at camp, even as newer beautiful melodies have been added. Back when I was a camper, there was a vigorous debate over whether or not to include the Imahot (matriarchs) in the Avot prayer. Today, the Avot v’Imahot is a given. The debate today is over whether Leah comes before Rachel in the liturgy. All of this made Bonny’s quest even more amazing and inspiring for me.
When I was a camper Bonny’s quest wouldn’t even have been possible. There were not enough female rabbis back then to have had 54 writers on the parashiot. The questions we are asking and the discussions we are having today may be some of the same questions and discussions, but they are different because women’s voices are added to the mix. As I hugged her before she left, I told Bonny that I want to hear more about her journey as it continues – I know she will have some wonderful stories to tell.
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack is the rabbi of Temple Israel in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is the Midwest Regional Representative of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, a founding member of the Indiana Voices of Women leadership and spirituality group, and a writer of feminist midrash who enjoys singing and playing guitar.