Sacred Empowerment

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, June 29, 2023

In early June I was fortunate to spend 4 days at the Women’s Rabbinic Network convention in Beverly Massachusetts, along with more than 120 women rabbinic colleagues in person, among us several from World Union communities and Israel, and 40 online participants. Since it is held bi-annually, the last time we were together in person was 2019, and this was the first in person convention that I have been to in 3.5 years. Our yearlong celebration leading up to the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Sally Priesand’s ordination (1972) was held on Zoom, So it was especially moving and meaningful to gather this year.

Sacred Empowerment was the theme of the convention, woven skillfully throughout our morning tefillah (prayer) services, our song sessions, programs, and keynote speakers. Our scholar in residence expertly led several sessions on developing and using effective communication skills to have more productive conversations. We celebrated our trailblazing vatikot – the pioneering women of the first generation of women in the rabbinate, most especially our beloved Rabbi Sally Priesand, who opened the door for all of us to step through. She read to us from the new children’s story book about her life “Sally Opened Doors”, and we were thrilled to learn that her portrait will be officially added to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington DC as an individual who has made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States. Rabbi Priesand’s portrait was photographed by the renowned photographer, Joan Roth, a remarkable trailblazing woman in her own right, who also joined as us our photographer in residence at this year’s convention, to capture this moment in our stories of women rabbis. Our WRN director, Rabbi Mary Zamore, interviewed Anita Diamant, the author of the Red Tent, the New Jewish Wedding Book and the New Jewish Baby Book, about her new book Period, End of Sentence, on menstrual justice, and we gathered period products to be distributed at food banks and homeless shelters. We learned about the history of the Salem Witch trials and their contemporary relevance. We hugged and laughed and cried, and of course we sang and prayed, and remembered those who came before us, those upon whose shoulders we stand.

A part of gathering in convention together is also about supporting each other and share in the joys and the challenges of what it means to be a leader in the Jewish community. It was wonderful to see colleagues I have known for years and to meet newly and recently ordained rabbis. On the plane home I spent time reflecting on the idealism and hope that we all shared – to teach Torah and work to transform– if not the world – at least our little corner of that world – to teach, to learn, and to create a warm and caring community.

At the end of our convention we stood in a circle, linking hands and arms, singing prayers of blessing together and to one another. I looked around at each one of the faces in that circle – old and new friends who became rabbis because we sensed this beautiful and wonderful light that is Torah. We saw a world that was in need of God’s light. We met souls that we knew could find joy and light in a community full of the light of the Holy One. We felt the warmth of Torah and we wanted to share it with other Jews. So we became rabbis – because we want to kindle the light and keep it burning, and because we want to spend our lives near that light, warmed by that fire. And even when it is not easy, we are able to support one another and remind each other of how important is our sacred work – how much you need this light, how much the Jewish community needs it, how much the world needs it – and how in our own Jewish communities wherever they are, each of us keep the light lit day after day, year after year.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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