A Letter to My Daughter, the Rabbi
By Rabbi Brad Boxman
Some things are just meant to be. I guess it’s what we call “b’shert.”
Thirty-two years ago, I made a fateful decision to apply to the Rabbinic School at The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Although I was raised in a Reform Congregation in Philadelphia, where my mom served as sisterhood president at Beth David Reform Congregation, I had come to appreciate a more traditional Jewish lifestyle and had considered applying to the Conservative Seminary instead. While there were a number of important factors which led me to HUC, among them was one very troubling issue. For some reason I just could not understand or accept the idea that a woman could not be a rabbi. At that time only the Reform Movement was ordaining women rabbis, the first in 1972 when Sally Priesand received her s’michah in Cincinnati at the historic Plum Street Temple. I didn’t have sisters and at the time I didn’t have daughters, but it just seemed unfathomable and unconscionable that a woman could not serve God and the Jewish people as well as any man. As the Prophet Jeremiah expressed it best, this obsession was: “like a burning fire shut up in my bones.”
Little would I know then, that thirty-two years later in just one week’s time, I will have the pride and joy of seeing my daughter Ariel ordained as arabbi on that very bimah where I was ordained twenty-six years ago. I am ever grateful to our movement which has demonstrated the vision and courage of its convictions time and again to open new doors and chart new paths for the Jewish people over the last 200 years. Chief among them is the fight for women’s liberation and the absolute right of women to lead our people as rabbis and cantors. I am thankful as well, to WRJ which has supported me in my rabbinate from the very beginning in granting me a YES Fund Scholarship for my first year of study in Jerusalem and for their vital contributions to the youth of the congregations I have served over the years. Their largess has not only enabled me to succeed in my career, but has allowed me to inspire others including my precious daughter, Ariel.
I have thought for a long time about what I would say to my daughter as she is about to be ordained. I share with you words I recently spoke to Ariel from the bimah of my congregation in Florida.
Ariel, what a profoundly special privilege it is for me to share this unique calling with you. As father and daughter, we enjoy many bonds that bind us together, but to share the same sacred office is indeed a rare blessing. When we stand together on the day of your ordination, I will have the awesome privilege of laying my hands upon you as rabbis have done for 2,000 years, giving you “s’michah”, passing onto you the authority to be recognized as a “Rabbi in Israel”, with all its attendant duties and obligations.
In that sacred moment, I will speak the ancient words passed from rabbi to rabbi, I will invoke God’s blessings upon you, and we shall then and forever be linked as colleagues, as servants of the Most High and teachers of Torah. So, in love, I share a few words born of personal experience.
When your burden is too heavy, rejoice in the gift of Shabbat. When you cry out in despair, look deep within for faith and hope. When you succumb to sorrow and loss, remember that “joy cometh in the morning”. And when your head swells with pride, remember to wear a kippah.
So my daughter, as you stand on the shoulders of women rabbis before you, how poignant and historic it is that Rabbi Priesand will join you on the same bimah for your ordination as she and the Reform Movement celebrates the 40th year since that momentous occasion, when Sally became the first woman rabbi. Is it a coincidence or is it fate that of all your peers that you were chosen to read Torah when Rabbi Priesand is called as the first Aliyah? When she stands next to you to recite the blessings before and after you read from the Torah, in that moment, for me personally, all the stars in heaven will be as one and the burning quest for women’s full inclusion in Jewish life will have come full circle.
Rabbi Sally Priesand and Rabbi Ariel Boxman standing side by side on that historic bimah bound together by words of Torah…who could have ever imagined such a moment in time, but then again, I guess some things are just meant to be.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman serves at Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, Florida.