In the United States women increasingly participate in rabbinical and cantorial roles in many synagogues and temples especially of the Reform, Conservative and Jewish Renewal affiliation. The experience in Israel has been different, and this book documents the cases of women who have entered the clergy, as rabbis or cantors, in that country in recent years. In “Voices in the Wilderness” women rabbis and cantors from Israel tell their stories
“Public society, whether Jewish or not, is much more a wilderness for women than for men, even in the 21st century,” commented Tamar Frankiel, President of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. “It is one of the cutting edges of our evolution: women engaging with and confronting structures that restrict women’s and men’s full potential.”
The idea to express and document the role of Israeli-born clergywomen began when Simerly, a native Israeli, visited her home country in the summer of 2010. “I was invited to a class reunion and reconnected with some childhood peers I had not seen in twenty-five years,” she said. “After being asked repeatedly ‘You do what in America?’ it became clear to me that the population in Israel lacks an appreciation of the role of female clergy in Israel and the Diaspora. Being a female Reform cantor is especially difficult for Israelis to comprehend.
With the contradictions of growing up in an ultra-secular in a Zionist Israeli environment to now serving as a Reform cantor in the United States, Simerly realized how different and confusing her path was for many people, including my own family members in Israel. “
“This uniqueness has made me feel somewhat isolated,” said Simerly, “but has also made me curious about the dichotomy of women’s experience.” On the one hand, there is a growing religious fanaticism that has spilled over into women throwing stones at other women in the Western Wall. On the other hand, there is a visibly growing trend of provocative (and sometimes-promiscuous) young women dressed in mini-skirts and espousing the “YouTube-star-for-a-day” ethos.” I wanted to find out how other Israeli clergywomen, who represent a growing group of influential people in our world, found themselves in their unique positions.”
“The stories of women rabbis and cantors are the voices that have been missing for centuries,” wrote Rabbi Naamah Kelmand of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. “This book brings a collection of extraordinary women from the wilderness closer to the Promised Land; to the place where their Torah, their music, their creativity is a blessing to the entire Jewish people.”
Florence L. Dann, a fourth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.