06 June 2009

Ordained: First African-American woman rabbi

The face of American Judaism and that of future Jewish genealogical research is changing, and a New York Times story about the first African-American woman's rabbinical ordination demonstrates this.

According to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, some 20% of Jews in the US - about 1.2 million people - come from non-European racial and ethnic origins. This includes African-Americans and Latinos.

Brandeis University American Jewish history professor Dr. Jonathan Sarna says that “Not long ago, even people in the Jewish community believed that you could tell Jews by how they looked. In just one generation we have moved to a vastly more pluralistic Jewish community in the U.S.”

These statistics and the story are interesting.

It focuses on the rabbinical ordination of Alyssa Stanton, 45, who has become the first African-American woman to be ordained by a mainstream Jewish seminary, the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She will become the rabbi of Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, North Carolina, which is affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements. A small congregation - the only one in town - it tries to be inclusive. There are a few African-Americans among its 60 member families.

Stanton's religious road began in a Pentecostal family, and took her to experiences with Catholicism, Baptists, Eastern religions and Messianic Christians.

As she prepared for her ordination, Ms. Stanton said she did not want to be reminded of the ceremony’s historic importance.

“I feel awe and a healthy dose of fear about being the first,” she said. “I try to keep it simple. I am a Jew, and I will die a Jew.”
A Cleveland, Ohio native who has lived in Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado, she also studied in Israel.

The story also touches on the fact that when Reform and Conservative rabbinical branches began ordaining female rabbis, many blacks and Jews believed it was impossible to be both black and Jewish.

According to the story, some observers drew parallels between her joining the rabbinate and November’s presidential result.

“It is of incredible importance to note that her ordination coincides with the election of Barack Obama,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, who will ordain Ms. Stanton at the college’s Cincinnati campus on Saturday. “It offers a ray of hope that the world can become a better place.”
Read the complete story at the link above.

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