By Mandy Bach, NFTY-CWR
This essay was a finalist for the Centennial Essay Competition created by Women of Reform Judaism. This year’s topic was The Influence of Women’s Leadership on Our Congregations. Read other essays here.
Growing up in the 21st century, it is hard for me to believe that the first woman rabbi was ordained only 40 short years ago. Three out of four rabbis at my temple are women, one of whom was ordained within the first year that women were allowed to do so. All three of them have an enormous influence on our congregation. However, one of the rabbis in particular has significantly contributed to my development and growth as a Jew. Her name is Rabbi Alissa Miller.
Rabbi Miller was specifically hired to work with youth and ensure that they continued their Jewish learning. In one of her endeavors to keep the youth connected, she teaches the sophomore class at our teen school every Wednesday night. In that class, she discusses different topics with the teens. She talks with the class about Israel and which political issues Reform Judaism takes a stance on, and what our position is on those issues. In January, the class heads off to their Confirmation Trip to Washington D.C., where they attend the L’Taken Seminar at the Religious Action Center and advocate for one of the subjects that was discussed in class. I was lucky enough to experience this last year with Rabbi Miller. She explained that tikkun olam was a large part of this trip. We advocated for topics we, as Jews, were passionate about and eager to change, such as LGBT rights and the issue of unemployment. I know that tikkun olam is a very important concept in Reform Judaism, but as we advocated, I realized just how prominent it was in what we were doing. With the help of Rabbi Miller, I understood how important it is to incorporate tikkun olam into what we believe and how we take action.
Rabbi Miller is my role model. I look up to her and respect her enormously. She knows how to relate to teenagers; she understands where they are and how they think. She can relate to them in an honest way that they can understand. In seventh grade, she was the rabbi for my Bat Mitzvah; since then she has always supported me. When I was contemplating running for a board position on my youth group board a couple of years ago, she convinced me to go for it. That may have been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. My involvement in my temple and NFTY all comes from that decision.
In addition to helping me make ultimately life-altering decisions, she has influenced the way I presently live and the way I want to live my life. She is the reason that I am thinking of becoming a rabbi. But I would only do it under one condition – that I am just like Rabbi Miller. I have come to realize that Rabbi Miller is one of my idols, and that if I strive to be like her and learn from her, I can do no wrong.
Rabbi Miller has impacted me greatly and helped me grow as a person and as a Jew. She and the two other women rabbis at my temple have an enormous influence in our congregation. I just don’t understand how women had not been rabbis until 1972. With seventy-five percent of my temple’s clergy being strong women, it seems so natural for women to be the leaders.