What Exactly Am I Doing Here?

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.

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About rabbiisa

I'm a Reform Rabbi with a passion for education! I'm also a pop culture fan, political junkie, and NY Times crossword puzzle addict. I am INTP, a proud member of Red Sox Nation, and a fan of the Oxford Comma.

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