This Is What My Voice Is For
I experienced a profound moment of clarity Monday afternoon. Attending Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) Advocacy Day in Albany, I listened intently as Rabbi Linda Goodman of Union Temple in Brooklyn affirmed the Reform Jewish values undergirding our Movement’s advocacy for reproductive choice while speaking to her state Senator. Though her words were persuasive and meaningful, it was the silent but amplified power of her position that resonated so deeply. That a female rabbi, a leader of the Jewish people, had chosen to devote her day to championing the cause of reproductive health spoke volumes about a battle that many mistakenly believe has been won. Sadly, the struggle continues.
In 2012, as we celebrate 40 years of women in the rabbinate, we also mark 42 years since the passage of trailblazing pro-choice New York state legislation that has now grown stale. The time is long overdue for New York to treat the regulation of abortion as an issue of public health and medical practice, rather than as a potential crime, as it still stands in the state’s penal code. With threats to overturn federal protections of reproductive choice intensifying, it’s incumbent upon reproductive health advocates in New York to ensure that our state constitution protects a woman’s right to choose. Seeing women like Rabbi Goodman, Rabbi Marci Bellows of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh and RJV co-chair Rabbi Jennifer Jaech of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester devote their limited free time to voicing support for this issue and others reminds me why we began ordaining women 40 years ago.
For too long, our Reform Movement undermined its potential to pursue our social justice agenda and the vital work of tikun olam with the full vigor and passion of our community by denying a leadership voice to women. Now, 40 years later, I have a front-row seat to the triumph born of this important anniversary. The legislative staffer who met with our group was clearly captivated by Rabbi Goodman’s remarks. I imagined Rabbi Goodman’s comments salving wounds from hundreds if not thousands of angry conversations with anti-choice constituents; her State Senator is pro-choice. And what a breath of fresh air it must have been to see a rabbi, a woman rabbi, accompanied by male rabbinical colleagues, articulating the fervent and long-held position of our religious Movement in support of this controversial issue.
I was delighted this past December when I received my acceptance letter to Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, where I plan to follow the pioneering footsteps of Rabbis Goodman, Bellows and Jaech. When I am ordained in 2018, we will celebrate 46 years of women in the rabbinate, and thanks to RJV and the example of my future colleagues, I know exactly what my voice is for.
I eagerly anticipate my first RJV Advocacy Day as an ordained rabbi six years from now. It is my sincere hope that by then, the right to choose will have been finally enshrined in the health code of our state so I can devote my energies toward solving other equally vital social justice issues, including a fair minimum wage and campaign finance reform, both of which demand the support of religious leaders seeking a more just state for all New Yorkers.