Had you polled all of my classmates at HUC and asked everyone to rank ourselves in order of who was most likely to ever attend a WRN Convention, I’m pretty sure I would have been in the bottom 10 of most lists. Seriously—some of our male classmates would have been listed before me—including on my own list. It just wasn’t my thing.
I never went to the women’s only Rosh Chodesh services, and tended toward hanging out with the guys. Even after ordination, I shied away from being one of “those female rabbis.” I just wanted to be a rabbi. I honestly didn’t see a difference, or a need for us to do our own thing, at that time. Having grown up in an era where I was taught to believe that girls could do anything boys can do, and having role models that were both male and female, in a variety of leadership roles, I really didn’t see that there was a need for “those women things.”
I even gave a sermon during one of my first years as a rabbi, on Sisterhood Shabbat no less, titled “Why I’m Not A Feminist.” At that time, I think I had an image of “those feminists.” I’ve since, of course, learned that there are as many types of feminists as there are Zionists. And that I can be both an equalist (a term I always preferred, connoting the idea that we’re all equal) and a feminist.
It was at the WRN Conference last year, that I recalled all this. And now, here I am…not only did I attend a conference, not only did I help coordinated some of the workshops, but I’m even here blogging for the WRN. So I find myself asking…what’s changed?
Admittedly, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection—job hunts tend to do that to me. Between the inner searching to figure out what I want to do and to be and the need to answer tons of questions about myself, I find myself thinking about what I do and why I do it a lot more during these periods.
As I write this just as my job hunt comes to a close, I find myself wondering when I started thinking of feminist as a possible descriptor of myself, and woman rabbi as one of my identifying features—not just woman—not just rabbi—but woman rabbi.
Was it when I smiled the time the Rabbinic Intern at the congregation where I was Assistant Rabbi read “She” instead of “He” for God in Gates of Prayer? Was it when I filed a claim with the EEOC because I was discriminated against because I was female (not to mention single)? Was it when I realized that I had people make comments to or about me that were not comments that my male colleagues ever had? Was it when I realized that I needed to be conscious about how and when I responded to both males and females when I was teaching? Or was it when I realized that there were people who preferred to hire someone who looked like what a rabbi should look like? Or was it when I realized that there were conversations that I could have with my female colleagues that my male colleagues couldn’t relate to in the same way?
Or was it a combination of all that?
Don’t get me wrong—I still value the time I have with my male colleagues. I love my boys. There are conversations I can have with them that I can’t have with my female colleagues, to be honest. Both are important to me. Even now, I’m generally more comfortable in a mixed gender conversation than I am in a discussion with all women. But, at the same time, I value the time I have with my female colleagues. It’s special—it’s different—it’s kadosh.
Rabbi Elisa Koppel, a proud feminist and equalist was most recently the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ. She’s soon to begin a new adventure!! She blogs personally at Off the REKord.