The twinkle in her eyes were dancing with the same excitement I saw a decade ago when she introduced herself to Chanie and myself. Back then it was as a first year student beginning college.
Now six years after she graduated, we were sitting across from each other with headphones over our ears, a microphone close to our mouths, and preparing to record a podcast about her choice and experience in pursuing a career as a female Orthodox Rabbi.
Anyone with even a cursory familiarity with Chabad knows that our views on tradition and Halacha are conservative, even non-compromising. This includes the topic of ordaining a woman as a Rabbi, so when she agreed to have a recorded conversation on the topic with someone who on some level disagrees with her pursuit, well that was impressive.
In the past I’ve made numerous attempts to have conversations with individuals who have differing ideologies and perspectives. This includes an author and a leader with progressive views, only to be rebuffed to my deep disappointment. In light of these rebuffs my respect for her grew.
Most impressive though was her willingness to offer me, an outsider, an honest reflection of the institution she is studying at and by extension identifying with. We live in a time when group identification is a primary factor in one’s religious identity and experience. People have a primordial need to defend that identity and group at all costs especially from outsiders, otherwise they view that Judaism itself is in danger.
She did not. Her identity and more importantly her religious experience came from a connection to G-d and a desire to help others make their connection to G-d. In today’s Jewish world this is an anomaly and certainly in the language used by leaders in the religious world. This includes Rabbis, educators and lay-leaders whose big words are community, belonging and chesed (helping others within and outside the group).
The twinkle in her eyes, the life in her smile, the humility in her tone and the courage in her body language emanated from her connection to the Beyond, to G-d. It was refreshing and exciting. The Jewish world is blessed to have future leader like her.
Listen to part one of the conversation here.