Episode 3.8 Transcript

Talkin’ About Israel (WOW!) with Rabbi Dana Sharon

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Rabbi Marci Bellows: Welcome to Women Rabbis Talk, where women rabbis talk to other women rabbis about being women rabbis. I am one of your hosts Rabbi Marc Bellows and with me is

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Rabbi Emma Gottlieb.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: And we are, as always, so excited that you have decided to join us for today’s episode. And we begin each episode with a segment entitled, What are we thinking about? So, Emma, Hey, what are you thinking about today?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Ug! Marci, I have to make an admission that I’ve been thinking about and feeling badly about. And maybe you can help me think through whether I really erred in judgement, or if there’s something I could have done differently, or if it’s just a learning experience for next time. So recently, a very prominent rabbi came to visit Cape Town, obviously, that’s where I am. And I had the awesome opportunity to join him and his wife for a tour, and to be their their hostess during their tour, which was great. I was really excited to meet this rabbi who I’d heard a lot about, but had never met before. I didn’t really think a lot about his wife or who she might be. When I picked them up, I very politely asked her about herself and what she does for a living. And she very politely told me what she does. I didn’t really think about it at first. But then as I was getting to know them throughout the morning, and hearing them interact with other people that we were meeting on our tour, it became obvious to me that she was a very accomplished woman in her field. I started to get very anxious that I had made sort of an ass of myself. And of course, when I went home, I did some googling and discovered that indeed, she is not just accomplished, but extremely accomplished – award winning in her field. That is something I feel I should have known; that I, I sort of feel like I’m slapping myself in the face, emoji-style, thinking like, why didn’t I take a minute to, to ask who, who this guy’s wife is? I just, I was so excited about meeting him, and thinking about all of his accomplishments and accolades. It never even occurred to me to ask or to think about her, and then she is also a person in her own right with, obviously, a very accomplished career. I feel like as a woman Rabbi like I should know better. Like maybe this is like an assumption that lots of people would make. This probably is something that happens to wives of accomplished men all the time. I imagine she might not even have thought twice about it, because it’s probably happened to her so many times. And I just felt like I should have known better. I certainly will do better next time. But I wonder, I wonder if you can just think it through with me a little bit. This sort of issue of even those of us who are constantly talking about feminism, and breaking glass ceilings, and elevating women, and empowering women – that we still sometimes get caught in our own implicit biases, and unrecognised, like unrecognised biases. And and I wonder, I don’t know, what do you think about it, Marci? And should I be feeling as badly about it as I do?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: When I think about what you experienced, and I tried to put myself in your shoes. I think I would have reacted and acted the exact same way. I don’t think I would have thought to google her. Or I don’t think I would have assumed that she had accolades in her career, knowing what a big presence this prominent rabbi has, and I hope everybody appreciates that we’re keeping this general and anonymous. And I and I also would have been kicking myself horribly afterwards. It’s not an internalised misogyny, like, I don’t think that’s what it is necessarily, but it is a bias. It’s an assumption that, you know, she would somehow have let his career eclipse hers, you know? Or would have sat back. But no! It’s, it is wrong for us to assume that and, but I would have made the same exact assumption and I don’t know why.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Hmmmm. Well, I feel relieved to hear you say that. But I also wonder, if that’s the case, like if we are two female rabbis who are just as likely to make this assumption as anyone else, you know, what can we is there anything we can do about that? Or how can we counteract? Or is it just sort of, okay, we’re learning from it, and it won’t happen again, because I made this blunder and we’re all learning from it together?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I know I’m going to learn from it. That I’m going to assume when people come to visit my congregation, for example, we do get, and this isn’t a humble brag this is just the fact, that we do get big name visits to my synagogue, because it’s a very noteworthy building and a noteworthy artists built our building, I should Google people ahead of time when I have the opportunity to see who they are before they visit, and not after so that I can appreciate who they are. And it should be anyone of any gender who comes to visit. And you’re really teaching me a lot through your experience. Or what do you think? What are your takeaways?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely going to go to google the wives and husbands of future rabbis that I meet in advance – maybe not even just the big ones, but all of them. But yeah, I think I think it’s just, it’s elevated my awareness around the assumptions that we make about prominent people, about rabbis, and about men and the other people in their families. Yeah, I guess I just hope, maybe, by having this conversation, we were raising awareness beyond just the two of us and, and hopefully creating space for the wives and husbands and family members of big, big names, to be recognised as people in their own, in their own right to I guess, lower the potential for the the assumptions that we make about those kinds of families.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yeah, I wonder how, you know, would it have happened just as easily if it was a prominent woman, Rabbi, you know, and her husband was also prominent in his field? Would you have also neglected to look up what he did? You know, the big gender thing?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I think I would have. I think I would have been just as unlikely to have given it a second thought, that I would have still been focused on on the prominent rabbi and not on the spouse or the partner. So so maybe it’s more about that and less about the gender, although I suspect it probably happens to women – prominent women who are married to prominent men more than that reverse.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Sure. Well, statistically, I’m sure that’s true, too. Right.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Like, I imagine that most people who know who she is know who her husband is, but maybe not. Maybe not. It’s hard to know, I guess.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Thank you for bringing this to us. What a difficult and humbling moment, and thank you for putting yourself out there.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thank you. I think it’s, it’s definitely going to be something that I’m chewing on for a while and thinking about how does one make tshuva for these kind of like, oh, I put my foot in it and maybe it was like, just like a very human oversight, but I feel like I need to at least acknowledge it if not corrected it somehow.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: And you Marce? What are you thinking about?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I am thinking about the sabbatical that I’ve just completed. As our listeners know, I had a sabbatical that was three months long, the first half of a sabbatical, the second half will be next year, a second three months. And, you know, I spoke on an episode about different things that were anticipated different trips and projects. And suffice it to say, nothing ever goes as planned. As Styx says, It’s a hell of a notion. As Yiddish says, man trakht un got lakht – man plans and God laughs. Interestingly, there was foreshadowing in my very first week of my sabbatical, I had this big Broadway Bonanza planned, where I was going to go and see four Broadway shows in like two and a half days. And I stayed at a hotel in Times Square and just surrounded myself by New York City tourism, for sure, but also just the Broadway spirit, and I caught the flu while I was there, and just was getting sicker and sicker, and felt terrible for coughing, like in the front row at a show. Wound up having to cancel one of the four shows because by then I was just so sick and had also gone to urgent care and found out I had the flu and didn’t want to inflict it on anybody, so cancelled that show and went home. That should have foreshadowed in some kind of literary sense what was to come, though I could not have anticipated truly what was to come. My family, my husband and our child and I did have an opportunity to travel to Mexico, which was great and relaxing. But all the rest of our trips were cancelled, and/or postponed or moved because sadly, my father who’s been sick for a long time, we never would have guessed that his decline and eventual death would be taking place now, during my sabbatical. Sadly, that is what happened. The silver lining, as many people have pointed out to me is that I had this unplanned, unscheduled agenda-free time, to just go home to Chicago, be with my siblings, be there with my dad, talk with him, reminisce with him, laugh, while he was still cognizant and present to the extent that he was, tell him how much I love him, do what I encourage congregants to do and tell him what I appreciate about him and the lessons that he taught me. I had a chance to do those things. I was there with my siblings. We had an incredible moment where all four of us Bellows kids, plus our spouses, plus our kids were all in one Chinese food restaurant, for the very first time – that had never happened before. There were 14 of us. And when we told my dad about that in his skilled nursing facility, next we said, Dad, this is your legacy. There’s 14 of us that have come, that are here in existence because of you. And he just, you know, laughed his very special laugh that’s partly a cry, a happy cry too, and reminded him about all that he has accomplished in very real, tangible and beautiful ways. L’dor va-dor, from generation to generation, to another generation. So he did wind up passing away in mid February. In Jewishly, the last day of his life, the four of us kids, two of us are rabbis, two are very Jewishly educated, though not in Jewish professions. My brother Adam, who’s a rabbi, had a guitar, and we spent the afternoon singing favourite Jewish camp songs that we knew my dad would love. So Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper, and then some Peter Paul and Mary and some Bob Dylan and a little Metallica made it in there to just like, you know, because it was a guitar and we needed to sing Nothing Else Matters and it was a lot of fun. But mostly it was folk songs, and we all harmonised, and it was beautiful. We offered a Vidui, confession that is often said at the end of somebody’s life. We sang the Sh’ma. And when we all left and my brother Adam was the last one there, he said to my dad that my mother who passed away two and a half years ago, as many of our listeners may remember – that she has been waiting. And she has built a congregation of her own up – wherever – and is waiting for him to come and join her, and it’s time for him to go and sit in the congregation and kvell up at her, and for them to just smile at each other and love each other again. And he died that night. And so it was a beautiful day. And as beautiful as a death can be, I guess. And I was able to be there. So my sabbatical was primarily spent in Chicago. I did get to record some of the meditations that I wanted to, and that was especially moving, and I’m going to continue that project and continue rolling them out slowly. Because I didn’t want to just post them all in one fell swoop by like rolling them out, slowly. So if you want to look up guided Jewish meditation with Rabbi Marci bellows, you can do that, ha-cha-cha. But otherwise, nothing ever goes as planned. But this was clearly what the plan was, when I just didn’t know it until it was happening. So that’s the story, Emma, and thank you for your support throughout, it was wonderful and moving and your love and consolation, and condolences meant the world to me. So thank you.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, it was, it’s hard not to be with you when these things were happening. So thank you for telling us, telling us all about that. Because I think, you know, it’s such an intimate, private part of your family’s story. And also as a rabbi, and as a human, a beautiful soul, you’re modelling for other people, how a family can approach the end of life when they know it’s coming. And, you know, we, you know, there’s, there’s never like a good, there’s never a good option, you know? Like, I was talking to a woman who came to the shul the other day, and her husband had died very suddenly, you know, and she said, like, you know, it was good for him, like, he didn’t suffer, but horrible for the family, because they didn’t get to say goodbye, and they didn’t have any warning. And, you know, there’s, there’s, you know, people will debate, you know, which, which is better? Which would you rather have for yourself, for your loved ones? And, you know, ultimately we don’t get to choose, but we do get to choose how we respond, when when the time comes and your siblings and, and you, you know, are our teaching the rest of us one way that it can be, and that it can be beautiful, the importance of saying the things that you want to say, and being together, and singing together, and praying together, and, you know, eating Chinese food together, all the things. And I’m so I’m so sorry that you lost your dad, but I’m so glad that your family was together in that way.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: It was really precious. You know, there as many people know, there are interesting silver linings when there’s loss of a family and being together, the rest of the family is often one of them. Yeah, that was precious.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah. And I love the way that you, that you put it that, you know, that wasn’t the plan, or it was the plan and you just didn’t know it was the plan. And, you know, to, to not have to have had to take time off of work that it was already blocked out for you. You know, especially, you know, our listeners know, you’ve had a lot of adversity in the last few years and your congregation has beautifully held you and given you the time you’ve needed to grieve and heal when you’ve needed it – but, this, this way, you didn’t have to ask them for that. And yeah, in some ways, it was somebody else was planning it for you, to have that time and space. So that you could be with your family in that way and not not have any, you know, guilt or you know, discomfort around not being with your community. So, yeah, these are the things we navigate as rabbis sometimes you know, and,

Rabbi Marci Bellows: and as human beings, because we’re both.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Absolutely, ‘cuz we’re both. If you haven’t learned anything from our podcast yet listeners, it is that we are both – we are rabbis and human beings, and also women. And that’s all you need to know! You don’t need to listen to anything else. Just – (Laughs) We have a great episode coming up!

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yep, stay tuned. We are so excited to have Rabbi Dana Sharon with us from Israel talking about Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Centre. So please stick with us. Thank you, everybody.

We really feel so privileged today to welcome Rabbi Dana Sharon to Women Rabbis Talk. Rabbi Sharon holds a degree in literature from Hebrew University and was ordained by the Israeli rabbinic programme of Hebrew Union College. You may not be aware that there are four campuses for Hebrew Union College, there’s New York, there Cincinnati, there’s LA, and there’s also an Israeli programme. She is a prominent religious and feminist activist has served as the chairperson of the Jerusalem House for Pride and Tolerance, and volunteered for the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Centre. She is currently the Congregational Rabbi of the Reform Congregation of G’dera, and teaches in the Israeli rabbinic programme at HUC. She lives in her hometown of kibbutz Nachshon, with her life-partner, Shai, her cat and twins. So Rabbi Sharon, what would you like us to call you during our conversation today? And what do you like to be called professionally, and why? And please include your pronouns as you introduce yourself.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Thank you so much. My pronouns are she and her. I usually go by Rabbi Dana, just because that feels a good compromise between being formal which, you know, Israelis are not so inclined to be, but still maintain that kind of professional respect to my degree that I love and worked so hard to obtain. As some of you may know, that Israeli rabbinic programme unlike, the American ones, is a full scholarship programme. And you have to earn a Master’s Degree either before – in Jewish Studies – either before or during your rabbinic programme. So it was a long journey to get to sit here and be called a rabbi. And I really, really like to keep that in mind and have that kind of referral.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Oh, absolutely. That makes perfect sense. And would you like us to call you Rabbi Dana during the conversation today?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Yeah, Rabbi Dana’s perfect, thank you.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: That’s great! So how and why did you choose to become a rabbi?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: So my story, and this is a bit of a phenomenon in the Israeli reform, movement and rabbinic world, people who grew up in secular homes in Israel or in a secular environment, and had some kind of feeling of faith, or this sort of this sort of attachment to religious ideas, but didn’t have any way to express it, and felt that their religious identity have to be kept private, because the image of religious identity in Israel was so strictly orthodox. And it felt like we would have to give up really core values to practice religion, or Jewish religion. And then had the wonderful blessing to be shipped out as shlichim to summer camps in North America. And were introduced to the Reform Judaism, which is, by the way ridiculous because my longtime town of Kibbutz Nachshon is 10 minutes on the clock drive from Kibbutz Gezer, which had a Reform congregation for decades, with the most inspiring woman Rabbi, having Rabbi Miri Gold. But I was deprived from all that, and had to be shipped away to Northern California to learn that this was an option for me. But I came back with this with this new knowledge. It took a few twists and turns to really own it and to become not just someone who sort of was in the in the edges of Reform Jewish life in Israel, but kind of owning that I had a place in leading, but that is the core story.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: That’s beautiful. What a great plug for becoming a shchliach or sch’licha and coming and introducing yourself to Reform Judaism in America. And yay for Rabbi Miri Gold, Kibbutz Gezer –

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: And yay for the camps! It really, it’s always amazing to me that, you know, here we are three, three rabbis from totally different backgrounds in lots of ways, but we all in lots of ways trace our rabbinates back to camp, which is you know, Marci and I are also big camp people. So that’s really cool that that’s part of your story, too.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: That’s awesome. And yeah, you will be surprised how many rabbis and lay leaders in Israel, you ask them where this happened and they will give you a very short answer: camp so and so, place so and so. In my case, it’s Camp Towanga, California, who had been beyond mind blowing, especially for the very young person, and very inexperienced person I was, and taught me so much about how, about Jewish Jewish queer identity especially, was so celebrated, and helped me so much to come to so many agreements with myself, and really, really turned me into the rabbi and activist I am today.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Oh, my God. Oh, I just got chills. That was so beautiful. Oh, love it. So since you’ve become a rabbi, what are some of the different roles you’ve held leading up now to your your many different roles, and we’re going to be highlighting, of course, Women of the Wall soon, but tell us about some of the other work you’ve done.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: So I haven’t been a rabbi that long. I was ordained in November 2021. So I’m, I’m only I’ve only been doing this officially for a year and a half, pretty much, and I’ve been the congregational Rabbi of Kehilat Gedera for the entirety of that time. But I’m also teaching in the Hebrew Union College, is just my wildest dream coming true. I teach a really wonderful class to the Israeli and the Year in Israel programme, which means both our Israeli students and our American students who are visiting, spending their first year, all their rabbinic education in Israel, which is just something that I think HUC does, and is just so amazing and important. And we teach a Beit Midrash to both, we, like my colleague, I call him my colleague, he’s my still so much my teacher and my mentor, but to this extent he’s my colleague, Rabbi, Professor Michael Marmur. Tremendous, tremendous teacher and a tremendous privilege to work with. And so we teach a joint Bei Midrash to both programmes about Israeli and American contemporary Jewish thinkers. And that is just a real dream come true. And I also get to teach a young group of young ladies, a small group of young ladies at the Machon HaMadrichei Chul, which is something that is more, I think, is better known for for Netzer. And a lot of students from the UK and from the, from Australia, not so many Americans a little bit Young Judea, I think. So I teach them about women in Judaism. It’s a small class, and it doesn’t, it’s not as fancy but I love it. I get to learn from our younger generation about the issues that they are concerned about. And that is, that is just a huge privilege to talk to young people and not just, you know, young rabbis, let’s say, but also really our young generation who is now going into the world. These are people in gap-year, and hear from them what they’re concerned about in their Jewish identity or in their, yeah, and their Jewish, Jewish feminism.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Tell us about your work with the Israel Religious Action Centre, such a key advocacy organisation for Reform Jewish and progressive values within Israel, and all the more important right now.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Yes, so before I was even a student Rabbi, I was chairperson for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, which is when I met Rabbi Noa Setat, who is by far to me, the most influential rabbi in my life, one of the most influential people in my life, my rabbi, my woman, Rabbi, my idol, and all in all, incredible human being. And we’ve met through our LGBTQI activism. And Noa, when I was the chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the year was 2018. That was the year for, someone attacked the Jerusalem Pride March and a young woman named Shira Banki lost her life. And I was at the realm at this point. And Noa was, Rabbi Noa was so impressed with how I handled that crises, that she offered me to come and manage the social media for IRAC, and as a kind of an opening to get me more engaged with the Reform Movement in Israel, and hoping that this will lead to rabbinic career, which it has, so that is also, and that is also to me a big part of how I became a rabbi, because Rabbi Noa and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who was back then the CEO of the Israeli Reform movement, and is now a member of Knesset really stood by us, and in a way, that, for me was very significant and very influential, and their Jewish language made a very big difference in my experience of that very dark time. As well as my involvement with Women of the Wall, who has been just so supportive, and really carried me through a very difficult time when I was reading, but also had to keep up a very strong appearance and keep everybody else functioning, basically. So that is also a really significant milestone in me becoming a rabbi. And working with IRAC has just been such a huge privilege because you get to fight in the frontlines in the war for religious freedom in Israel that has been going on for so long. And IRAC is just just ahead of the spirit in that, in that realm. There is no better place to be. This is the kind of work you really want to be doing. And it has been for me, and it has been an amazing privilege to be the person who gets to tell the world why these amazing women, mostly the legal department of IRAC, is doing every day.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yes, amazing. For those of us who are sort of embedded in, in Reform Jewish life, these are issues we know about, and organisations that we know about. But I think for a lot of people right now with what is happening in Israel today, some of these issues are just coming to the awareness of people who maybe aren’t as familiar with, with the work of IRAC, with Women of the Wall and the challenges of women praying at the Kotel, and, and sort of all of the different issues that really are so in the spotlight right now, because of how they’re impacted by the proposed legislation of the current government. So you’re right at the centre of it. And we’d love to hear from you, you know, maybe just share for our listeners who don’t know, a little bit about what’s going on in Israel right now and how it connects with the work that you’ve been doing with IRAC and with Women of the Wall. And also, if you can tell us a little bit about Women of the Wall and who they are and what they do.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: For sure, so these are two, just because these are two so wildly different questions and topics, though they for, for sure intersect. The issue of – Women of the Wall is an organisation that has been around for 35 years, fighting for women to get equal access to the Western Wall. For those of you who have never been, I will say that this, the Western Wall has very strict gender segregation policy. There are two, there are two, let’s say there are three plazas there’s entering, the entrance plaza, and then once you go, you want to get nearer to the wall, you have a very strict, with men section and women section. When the men’s section is not only significantly bigger, which means you get better access to the actual wall in case you want to touch it or have your moment with it, put your note in it, you just, the men’s section is so much larger. It’s much better equipped for davening. They have something along the lines of 200, maybe 300 Torah scrolls. They have a Torah reading, every Monday, and every Thursday, every Shabbat – there’s always some kind of minyan going on. While in the women’s section, you’re lucky if you can find a siddur. There are zero Torah scrolls, and there is no way to get one. Basically, and for the longest time, women were not allowed to pray out loud. As in praying a minyan, pray together. It’s only ever been silent prayer. Women were not allowed to wear a tallit, our prayer shawl, and women were not allowed to wrap a t’fillin. And when you talk to and this is something that I’ve been doing, I’ve been a spokesperson for Women of the Wall for many years. I’ve been a board member I think for nine, eight years now, and I’ve been, I’ve been having this conversation with people about the Wall, and when you go and you meet a group of especially young people have visited me is in Israel, I always ask them to tell me about their experience if they’ve been to the Wall. The difference between the experience described by young men versus the experience described by young women is just tremendous. The men would talk about being welcome about being, having someone offering to help them, show them a siddur, help them wrap a t’fillin, help them with a tallit. If we’re talking about Friday night, Erev Shabbat, the man will tell you these glorified stories about having a freilach, and dancing and singing and meeting all sorts of different Israelis. Problem, all of those Israelis they are meeting are men also. The women will tell you about how they were shushed if they wish to pray out loud, how someone came and asked them to put on a what is fondly known by Women of the Wall as a schmatta – ah, this kind of wrap around if their shoulder was somehow seem to be too showing or if their cleavage seemed to be caught too low. They get these really strict orders beforehand about what they are allowed or not allowed to wear how they are they are not allowed to behave. And it’s, for a lot of us this is proposterous. And the whole story of Women of the Wall, the way it began was just by women seeking to have a fully halakhic women’s minyan, which is by many, many Orthodox rulers, completely allowed. But the backlash from the public at the Wall was so big and scary and violent, that they realised there’s a problem here that needs mending. This is how we need to mend the world right here, right now. We need to create some form of equality for women at the Western Wall.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, and this situation has been going on for a long time. This isn’t a new situation. And we have talked a little bit about, about it on the podcast before so I think our listeners are hopefully somewhat familiar. We had a, we had a listener question about praying at the Kotel, and we talked a little bit about the situation back then. Sometimes it seems like this is a an issue that only progressive women, non-Orthodox women in Israel, or who’ve been to the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh know about. Or maybe somebody’s heard Annat Hoffman speak at a shul or at a Limmud, but now it’s coming, sort of intersecting with current events in Israel in a way that is harder for people to miss, because I think a lot of people are, are paying attention to what’s going on in in Israel right now. It’s very hard with women in red robes marching in the streets not to pay attention. So maybe you can talk a little bit about how this issue now connects to current events in Israel today.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Oh, for sure. I just want to add to that, that the board members of Women of the Wall, most of them are Sabra. This is, though this is perceived as this weird, progressive, English collared issue, it is very much not. And our CEO is in fact, a strictly Orthodox, grew up in an Orthodox home, and he has been taking the organisation to wonderful new places. And now about the current situation. It’s such an interesting question to me, because it feels like we’ve been you, you don’t want to be the person saying I told you so. But also you kind of do. It feels like we’ve been telling people that Israel is marching in that direction of more and more totalitarian regime for a really long time. And both in Israel Religious Action Centre and Women of the Wall, people will tell you that the best way to perceive when a society is, might be taking a turn for the worst is how we, that society treats women and children. And when you see women’s rights being redacted, you can often assume that this society is taking a turn towards conservatism, which often goes hand in hand with a more totalitarian regime and last rites for everybody, not just those weird minorities of Jewish people who wish to pray in an egalitarian face. And the women who speak right on their own bodies and reproductive rights. So now, it feels like a lot of people are are seeing that for the first time, that this kind of, because when you talk, when you speak on behalf of the Israel Religious Action Centre, something that you learn really quickly is that the reason we’ve been using the Supreme Court, or everybody’s been using all of the liberal progressive public in Israel have been using the Supreme Court so much to create cases for themselves, is that this is because it’s a tool that has been proven to work. When Alice Miller wanted to join the Air Force, she appealed to the Supreme Court. When Tal Jarus-Hakak wanted to adopt her same sex partner’s children, she, they went to the Supreme Court. When Amit Kama wanted to be acknowledged as a significant, wanted his marriage to Uzi Evan acknowledged that we will have, they will have the rights every other married couple have, Supreme Court has been the answer. When Naomi Ragen wanted women to stop being sent to the back of the bus, she first came to IRAC and then together they went to the Supreme Court. But this is a tool that was always a vital in maintaining right in Israel, because of how weird, may I use the word crazy, our partisan system is, that made it almost impossible to make any progress through the Knesset, through the Parliament. So we always had that tool, and now that tool is being threatened. So that means every inch of defence that we’ve been carved through stone and through such hard work every – the acknowledgement in Reform conversions that hasn’t been around that long, and it can disappear in a heartbeat LGBTQI domestic partnership parenting rights all of those things are so wildly threatened right now. And, and you might get to a point where, and yeah, and Women of the Wall, Women of the Wall has appealed to Supreme Court many, many times, not always, the outcome was in our favour. But we always had that tool to raise awareness and make the government give answers at least. If they’re not, because they’re not necessarily answering to us, but they do answer to the Supreme Court. When we serve them with with a petition to the Supreme Court, they have to refer to it. They have to send a representative, a legal adviser to say, here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s happening. So it’s always been a significant tool, not only in creating actual change, but also in making the government accountable. And if we lose that tool, then we really stay with nothing.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: It’s such a scary thing, even from from outside of Israel to hear about and think about all of the progress that could be lost and all of the rights and freedoms that could be threatened. I can only imagine how scary it is for people in Israel right now. And so we first of all, we’re just sending love. And we’re, we’re standing with you, wishing we could march, I’ll actually be there in in May. And I mean, I hope I hope all of this is solved by then, but if they’re still marching in May, I will be there marching with you. But what would you like our listeners to know in terms of what they can do if they are listening to this and share these fears, and are watching from afar and feeling helpless? How can people get involved, support this important work, and this really, very, like of the moment fight that Israel is, is, having?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: First of all, thank you so much for this offer of support, and mean, so much, these are scary trying times. This is really hard and taking a toll from everybody, whether like myself, you try at least once a week to pack your babies, and throw them in a carrier and go march somewhere, or even if you’re just exposed to the news, you can see how scared and exhausted this is making people. And I think we all even those of us who are really in the frontlines of this are still feeling so helpless in some ways, and so scared, realising we’re in the fight of our lives. And we’re doing everything we can and we still might not win. We’re dealing with this false majur that we’re not we don’t know, necessarily how to impact. And I’ve been, I’ve been in the frontlines of these kinds of combats for many years now with Women of the Wall, with Jerusalem Open House, with with Rabbis for Human Rights. I was actually telling earlier the story about how I had my children in a Rosh Chodesh. So it was Rosh Chodesh Shevat of last year, I was rushed to an emergency C-section. And I remember myself, thinking, looking at our WhatsApp group for Women of the Wall and thinking, I still have an easier time than they are right now. I’m going through an emergency C-Section. And this is still easier than being at the Wall. Nobody’s spitting at me. Nobody’s screaming at me. Nobody’s at my face. All the people here are on my side, which is never a feeling you get at the Wall. And it’s also not the feeling you get right now in the streets of Israel when you’re protesting. The backlash from the police is beyond scary. But as to how you can help. There’s an easy, there’s an easy answer. There’s always an easy answer. Find a non governmental organisation you believe in, and support them, either financially, or by membership. If it’s a Reform congregation, show your support. Write supportive comments online, it really does help a lot. It doesn’t seem like much. But as someone who was a social media manager for six years, I can tell you, it helps so much. Because often you get so many bad and negative comments to see the good one, just really lift your spirit, even if it’s just that one person whose this is their job. It’s a it’s a hard position to be in, so support them. But yeah, find a non-governmental organisation in Israel whose people are with boots on the ground and are having a really terrible time and support them. And of course, if you, if there’s a demonstration where you are, wherever you are, I know there’s been demonstrations in New York and in LA, and wherever there’s an Israeli representative in the world, either travelling or fixture. Yeah, that again, it might not be very effective with with them, but it’s super effective with people in the streets, protesting and helps morale tremendously.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, that’s, those are all such important suggestions. And as you were speaking, you mentioned a lot of those wonderful organisations, and we will put links to all of the organisations that we’ve spoken about today and that you’ve referenced, in our show notes for listeners who want to click and follow through and support any of those, any of those important spaces. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about what’s going on, about the work that you do that you think we should know, or that our listeners should know?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: I would really like to thank you for creating this space for one rabbi to talk to each other and at each other. I think this is so so important. I think this job is challenging for everybody. But there are some extra wonderful yet complicated challenges for women in this world in general, particularly in these positions, that it’s still somewhat in some ways, so amazing we get to do. Women rabbis have been around for relatively such a short amount of time. I just I think it is so so important for us to talk to each other and lift each other up. One of my favourite titles of myself, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is a member of the Har-El congregation in Jerusalem. It’s the oldest reformed congregation in Israel, and to any woman, Rabbi, listening, or rabbis in general, I strongly recommend being also a member of a congregation, having that kind of a piece of identity, that I’m not just a rabbi, I’m also a member, I also have a pew. I have a rabbi, in my case, an amazing woman rabbi, Rabbi Ada Zavidov, of one of the first Israeli women ordained. Also a wonderful and such important way to show support and solidarity, be a member of a congregation that has a woman rabbi. And if you’re away from Israel, supporting Israeli congregations, especially those who whether very openly or inovertly, wave that flag of feminism and equality, is a really good way to show support and solidarity to colleagues and friends.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Amen, sister. That’s great,

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thank you. I was listening to you and thinking about how I grew up in Canada, where there are lots of congregations around, so. And I, you know, grew up sort of watching from afar, the progressive movement in Israel sort of grow, and cheering it on from the sidelines and all these things. And, and now I’m sitting in South Africa, where our progressive shul is the only progressive shul in Cape Town, and I’m thinking about how how nice it must be to be in Israel where you have other shuls that you can join. And, like –

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Right? Yeah, I get to choose like, do I want to be a supportive member in Jerusalem or in Modi’in, or in Jaffa? Yeah, for sure.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Ya, but that’s lovely. Thank you so much for for sharing this, this painful stuff with us, and for all the important work that you do and that you’ve been doing clearly for many years. We look forward to seeing success and what you’ll be doing next and following your your journey forward.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: In each episode, Rabbi Donna, we have an Ask The Rabbi segment. And your concluding comments in our last segment really segue very well into the question we have for today, which is: What is a meaningful contribution that women have made to the rabbinate? There are so many of course. If you were to think about it, like what’s, what’s something that either you’ve observed in other women, or that you yourself have felt like, this is something uniquely contributed by women, that wouldn’t be a part of the Rabbinate today, were there not women rabbis?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: I think the involvement in activism, especially feminists and LGBTQI activism is contributed a lot to women rabbis. I think that there’s just there’s no getting around this, and the fact that those of us who are more impacted by issues are more likely to act upon them. So I think that is that kind of term, the whole concept of mend the world, that is such a huge part of a lot of us. Life and, and spirituality and communal work, and communal life. I think that is, I think that is an idea that was originally originated by women’s organisations such as Hadassah, and, um, and later became much more embedded within within the Rabbinate. And I think, I think, yeah, that kind of involvement is hugely, hugely impacted. And been impacted by both the feminist movement that enabled all of us to sit here and have this conversation.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: It’s such a beautiful answer, and wow, Rabbi Danna, I’m just really very thrilled by what you said, and I’m really pondering that now. What came to mind for me as something that women have contributed to the Rabbinate that I think wouldn’t be there to this extent today is a – and I think this is especially within the Reform movement – is a return to spirituality, and to the mystical, to, to God language, to angel language, to the things that are even ineffable. I think we got so caught up in logic and in the empirical and enlightenment in Reform Judaism, and I think women’s presence brought back – at the risk of – brought back some of the magic, and I mean, that in the best of ways, that some of what we all long for, in religion, the things that make it very spiritual and special, and that answer the questions that we that we seek in religion, the mystery, really. And I think that that’s something that women gave permission for us to ask again. So that’s what came to mind for me. What about you, Emma?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I love that Marci. And I’m thinking about, like, the Kohennet movement. One day we’re gonna have to have a kohennet on the podcast, and, and I know one so we can make that happen. And and, yeah, and just sort of thinking about how how, in terms of women and the Rabbinate that’s new and revitalised. But in terms of women’s roles in Judaism, it’s not new, and that if we look back at some of our most ancient women’s traditions, they are around spirituality and even magic. And if you if you want to know more about what I’m talking about, read The Dove Keepers by Alice Hoffman, because that’s a good one. I was thinking about leadership styles, and how women approach leadership often differently than – not always but often – differently than men. And that the ways that we sometimes approach being rabbis, and being in a team, and being on a Bima, and working with people, and sitting with people and yeah, that that women often do that differently, and we’ve brought different models of leadership into the Rabbinate in that way. And, and that that also isn’t new. Because if we like look at Torah and Moses and Miriam right? And we have like all the leadership styles that we get into her. And Moses is like up there. And Miriam is like in the kahal with the women in the community. And that’s also not new, but it’s new in terms of how it applies to rabbinics. So I love that we, that we came at that from three really different approaches. All of which to say that women have contributed a lot to the rabbinate. So great question.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yeah, and I’m sure if we asked other colleagues, we’d have, you know, infinite other answers as well. So if colleagues want to write in with their answers as well, we would love to hear from you. What do you think is the unique contribution of women to the rabbinate?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Colleagues or other listeners. I’d love to hear. lay opinions on that too. Rabbi Dana, we have a segment of our podcast called Questionnaire Mahair, which is meant to be sort of rapid-fire but often we we end up wandering through interesting conversations here as well. I will ask you a bunch of questions and to the best of your ability you can you can give short answers to them. If you don’t have an answer you can pass, and we’re excited to get to know you a little better through these questions. Are you ready?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Yes. Born ready.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Perfect. So Rabbi Dana, who was your first woman rabbi, either in your home synagogue or that you were first aware of?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: So Rabbi, Noa Satat was the first one I kind of knew, but also heard about Rabbi Miri Gold, early on, in my introduction to the fact that women Rabbi exists.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: And if our listeners haven’t heard our episode with Rabbi Miri Gold, they should pop back into I think, season one find that episode. Tell us about a woman that inspires you can be a woman who’s Jewish or any other woman.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: I think I will have to be a total cliche and talk about Anat Hoffman, Chairperson of Women of the Wall for the last 100 years, pretty much, and chairperson of the religion, the Israel Religious Action Centre, until very recently, when she retired. She is just a force of nature. There’s just there’s no being around her without feeling inspired and empowered. And she’s so savvy and experienced in some ways, but yet so willing to learn, and open to new ideas and new concepts. It’s just yeah, it’s just you can’t – again and so unapologetically feminist and strong and smart and when it was really hard, all those trailblazers of women who were feminists in Israel in the 80s, it’s just it’s unimaginable. And they did it and they really broke that glass ceiling with their own hands. And you just you gotta admire that and you gotta – for me also gotta show up for that. You have to kind of give them so much respect and so much gratitude.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Absolutely. Absolutely. Force of Nature that woman is. Okay. Fill in the blank being a woman rabbi is or women rabbis are –

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Awesome. Most of them. Yeah, being a Roman one rabbi is, is awesome to me. And I know and I’m really, truly blessed, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I had so many amazing women mentors during my professional life. And during my education. The Jerusalem campus of HUC is now headed, still headed by Dean Naama Kelman. And who is just yet again, yet again, another completely inspiring woman rabbi, the first woman to be ordained in Israel. And the head of the Israeli rabbinic programme, Rabbi Thalia Avnon Ben Beniski is also the first woman to woman to head that programme. And one of the first ones who’s completely an Israeli product did her entire education in the Israeli campus of Hebrew Union College. She’s just beyond amazing. And Rabbi Ada Zavidov, and Rabbi Noa Satat, who I’ve mentioned. I’m really really one of the lucky ones in that term. And I’m really so so grateful for that.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Absolutely. It definitely feels like there’s such a strong generation of Israeli women rabbis right now, and it’s beautiful to see. What do you think would surprise people, Rabbi Diana, to learn about women rabbis?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Oh, wow. I think a lot of us still carry a lot of insecurities that has to do with our gender and with the fact that we still feel like we don’t fully belong in the spaces where we spend most of our professional lives and we still feel like we maybe are intruding or haven’t gotten full permission to be where we’re at. So that is – and when you talk enough to, when you talk for long enough to plenty enough of women rabbis, you hear that a lot. Or you see that little those little cracks. And I know a lot of us appear very confident, but when next you itntersect with a woman Rabbi, remember, she had to go through so much even internalised masaginism to get here and root for her. She’s awesome.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thank you. That hit me in the feels. It’s, yes, it is sadly very true. So on a lighter note, do you have a favourite Jewish character from a book movie or TV show?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Oh, wow, that’s I am a huge fan of all of those things. So it’s kind of hard to narrow it down. But I would have to go on the topic of strong women, strong Jewish women Miriam Mendelstone, from Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, would have to be maybe my number one choice. Ya, yet again, this fierce, amazing Jewish youngster who cause havoc in an imagined land. And I love her, and she has this kind of sarcastic sense of humour and a strong sense of self.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I have that book on my bookshelf ready to be read. And so now you’re like giving me that kick.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Go do that! Drop this conversation. Go do that. Now.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I haven’t read it either. But that sounds amazing. And points for an original answer. Rabbi Dana, what is a Jewish text teaching or value that inspires you or informs your life?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Oh, wow. I mean, it’s a tough question to ask someone who is so recently out of rabbinic school, and is teaching because it means you’re up to your eyeballs and in texts and in teachings. I will say that a text, a book like, I’m looking at my bookshelf that is right next to me. And there are two very different, yet very amazing books that are here kind of in reach for me to use. All the time. It is the book Bazman, I don’t know the title in English. Let me look – About Time, by Rabbi Dr. Dalia Marx, a book writer recently published book or was publishing huge, with a huge publishing house in Israel, where she talks about she takes this journey to the Jewish calendar. And if you haven’t studied or heard about Rabbi Dalia Marx, also drop this conversation, drop this podcast, go look her up. She’s an incredible teacher and radical scholar that has a really great knack to make really complicated ideas appear so simple and understandable, but not in a way that is overly simplistic, just in a way that is smart and on point. So that is my go-to book when I need kind of a an inspirational boost. And then I have Sefer HaAggadah, The Book of Legend by Bialik and Rav Netski, who sat together and created this kind of a selection of the legends that are in the Talmud, in the midrashim. And these are kind of my two, my two most open volumes in my library, I think. Whenever I need even just to shake my own head until you know, like a magic eight ball when you need to shake it and they’ll something different comes up. These are my go-tos.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I love that. And I love that one is like traditional, tried and true. And one is contemporary and –

Rabbi Dana Sharon: yeah. So they both kind of have that same agenda of making these things accessible to everybody, making Jewish texts and ideas and concepts accessible to anyone so that any 21st century Jewish person can grab this book. Okay, Bialik and Rav Netski we’re working in the 20st century, 20th century, but we can still grab and we can still read it. It’s not Aramaic. Lo Ba Shamimi Hi. It’s just it’s here for you to read and to engage with and to have your conversation with.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, and God willing, you know, Dalia’s book will stand the test of time also. And she certainly is is another great example of contributions to the Rabbinate – female contributions. So, last question, and maybe, maybe in many ways, we’ve already answered it, but just in case we haven’t, Rabbi Dana, what are you thinking about these days?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Oh, wow. Oh, the I the political situation in Israel take up most of my times, most sorry, most of my headspace. I wish it didn’t I wish I could focus on raising my two adorable children that have just turned 14 months, and kind of be completely about that, and about you know, my my career that is just in its beginning, and making plans for the future. But it just, it’s so hard. It’s so hard right now, to have a headspace for anything else. Everything feels, because of this feeling that you’re sitting on top of a gunpowder box. I’m not sure that that’s a good metaphor in Hebrew. I’m not sure it translates well. But there’s kind of that feeling that we’re on top of a volcano. A feeling we’re sitting on top of the volcano that might erupt any minute, just really makes making plans so hard. Everything feels so fragile.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, we definitely have that, that saying in English too. On a tinderbox. Yeah, it’s understandable that that would be taking up so much headspace and for what it’s worth, it’s on all of our minds, and you know in all of our hearts. So we are holding that with you as as best we can.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Rabbi Dana Sharon thank you so much for inspiring us today for teaching us for making us laugh. For showing us that even in the midst of a dark time in Israel, there are incredible rays of light like yourself. It’s just such an honour to get to know you. And I hope we have a chance to, to be with you and to cross paths with you many, many more times. So we’re really grateful that you took part in our episode today. And where can our listeners find you on social media if they want to follow up or reach out to you?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: I have a Facebook page. I’m on Instagram. The congregation has a Facebook page. I think that’s it.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: What’s your handle your Instagram handle?

Rabbi Dana Sharon: My Instagram handle? That’s a good question. I will have to check. I’m sure I have it. My Instagram handle is sharondana, one word. No capital. Sure.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Okay.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: And you have my email. Also, feel free to if there’s any listeners who want to contact me on that. Feel free to connect us if that’s okay?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: (Laughs) I’m looking at your Instagram.

Rabbi Dana Sharon: Yes, my Instagram is mostly babies. I will not lie.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Okay, so go to the rabbi’s Instagram for cute baby pics

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: and other important messages. So we will look for you there.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Thank you so much for being with us. Rabbi Dana Sharon Thank you so much for having me. It has been a pleasure and a privilege


Transcribed by https://otter.ai