When I Grow Up, I Want to be a….

By Rabbi Wendi Geffen

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked my four-year old recently. “Well, I’d like to be a rabbi, but I can’t because I’m a boy.” Given the fact that nearly every rabbi my son has met, including me, is female, his conclusion was not surprising.

Contrast that with my three year-old daughter’s response when I asked her what she would like to be when she grows up: “I don’t want to be a rabbi. I want to be a princess.”

So although this is certainly not a scientific or sociological study on modern children’s perceptions of gender boundaries (and may very well reflect some of my parental failures), I will say that, for my children at least, their understanding of the world and the way boundaries impact them is different, not only from each other’s assumptions, but also from those of my own generation growing up.

Indeed, the operating assumptions, sociological norms, and identity foundations that characterize my children’s lives are so different from those with which I grew up. I was raised in the generation of girls who were taught by their parents that they could do anything that a man could do, at least in the working world. And as many studies have pointed out in recent years, one of the apparent side-effects of that girl-centered attention was the decentralization of boy-centered attention.

Tonight marks my synagogue’s WRJ chapter – Women of NSCI (formerly known as Sisterhood) Shabbat. Undoubtedly, it will be powerful and inspirational, as so many important women in our synagogue, across the age-spectrum, will lead our worship, teach Torah, and demonstrate their critical role in our synagogue and community at large. They will show us that indeed women can do and be whatever they want; they can live a strong Jewish life governed by strong Jewish values and lead accordingly.  They will inspire other women and girls to do the same, whether they work as Jewish professionals or lay leaders.

My hope is that their inspiration will speak to the boys and men in the room as well.  That their model might message more than the promise and potential for women in our Jewish world, but that it might send a message that ANYONE, regardless of gender, can live and lead in powerful Jewish ways, so that they know that if they choose to be a Jewish professional or not, the door to that path is as wide open to them as it could be.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen serves at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL.

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