What To Call Your Rabbi?

Written By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

When I first came to be the rabbi of this holy community 17 months ago, a number of you asked what you should call me: Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner? Rabbi Ora? Reb Ora? Just ‘Rabbi’? Just ‘Ora’? It was my first congregational role post-ordination, and I was still adapting to my new title. I also wanted to be open to what each of you was most comfortable calling me. And so I likely said to you, “please call me whatever you feel most comfortable with,” with a default suggestion of ‘Rabbi Ora.’

17 months in, and several of you have continued to check in about how to address me. With a firmer sense now of my preference and its roots, I’m sharing this learning with you today:

In the near-2,000-year history of the role of rabbi, women have officially occupied this role for less than a century. The first modern woman rabbi that we know of, R. Regina Jonas, was ordained by Germany’s Reform movement in 1935. The next time Reform Judaism ordained a woman rabbi was in the United States in 1972, with R. Sally Priesand. Our Reconstructionist movement ordained its first woman rabbi, R. Sandy Eisenberg-Sasso, in 1974; then the Conservative movement with R. Amy Eilberg in 1985; and in 2009, Sara Hurwitz became the first Orthodox woman given the title of ‘maharat.’

One could argue that 5 decades of women rabbis in North America has given our Jewish communities sufficient time to get comfortable relating to rabbis who are not cisgender men. But the reality is that systemic misogyny (both in historical Judaism and in the non-Jewish world) continues to inform how women rabbis are regarded; women rabbis are consistently afforded less respect and confidence than our male counterparts.

In December 2017, Rabbi Jordie Gerson published an article in the Forward entitled “I Am the Rabbi, Not His Assistant: We Must Fight the Erasure of Female Clergy.” R. Gerson shares example after example of women and men, Jews and non-Jews, clergy and laypeople assuming she could not possibly be ‘the’ solo rabbi or speak from a position of grounded, educated Jewish authority.

R. Gerson writes: “This is demoralizing and exhausting. And it erases slow and painful advances it’s taken millennia to overcome – in a tradition whose right wing still scoffs at women rabbis.”

R. Gerson goes on to assure the reader that female clergy across faith lines share these experiences, including consistently being called by only their first names in situations where male clergy are called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Reverend’ or ‘Imam’ [Last-name].

On the heels of R. Gerson’s article, Rabbi Dr. Kari Hofmaister Tuling published an article in the Forward entitled, “Want to Help Women Rabbis Get the Respect They Deserve? Here’s a List.” The very first point on the list: “Refer to every colleague as ‘Rabbi’ [Last-Name] regardless of how cute or young or approachable or bubbly or fun she is.”

R. Dr. Hofmaister Tuling’s suggestion is an invitation and a challenge to all of us to invest in progress and claim respect for women clergy everywhere.

And, it’s also important to recognize that every community is different and has unique values and needs.

In Reconstructionist Judaism, and particularly in our community, we pride ourselves on being warm, welcoming, and somewhat informal. Given that, I suspect it would be overly distancing and stiff to be called ‘Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner’ by our members. So how do we balance a commitment to warmth with a commitment to allyship; how do we balance the value of closeness with a sense of confidence in the rabbi’s role?

There is power in naming and in being named. In light of what I’ve shared with you, I invite you to continue empowering me to be your rabbi, in the fullness of what that looks like within our community and beyond. And to answer the title’s question? Please, call me ‘Rabbi Ora.’

Welcome New Members Ella August and Joe Eisenberg!

Ella and Joe on vacation with Joe’s daughters (Ella’s stepdaughters), Thea and Sophie.

New member Ella August writes:

Joe and I had our first “real” conversation while waiting for our faculty meeting to begin at the University of Michigan School of Public Health eight years ago. Neither of us had been early to a faculty meeting before or after that day so we figure it must have been fate. We had served on a committee together and had passed in the hallway but hadn’t actually had a one-on-one conversation before this particular faculty meeting.

Joe has two children: Thea, a student at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Sophie, 23, who lives in Napa, California. They return home for summer vacations and visits.

Joe grew up in a nice Jewish family in the San Fernando Valley and then lived in Northern California for many years before relocating to Michigan. I am a Michigan native and am still mentoring Joe on how to be Midwestern. I think he’s starting to catch on.

I am an aspiring Jew, working with Rabbi Ora on conversion. Things I love about Judaism: the focus on community, the home-based practices (what I sometimes call the “do-it-yourself spirit”), the holidays, and the questions. Things I love about Jewish people: their sense of humor, their sense of community, their focus on education and family, and their Yiddish expressions.

Things Joe loves about Judaism: a sense of community and tradition, and a focus on education that continually questions our practices and beliefs. Joe takes great delight in cooking for the Jewish holidays and is constantly exploring cuisines ranging from Eastern European to Middle Eastern. His latest challenge is creating the perfect falafel: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.

Joe and I run and snowshoe trails together, eat delicious meals in all corners of the world, and enjoy entertaining at our home. You can often find us at Argus Farm Stop, Zingerman’s Deli, or Spencer restaurant, on North Campus admiring the art sculptures, or running through the Arb, Bluffs Nature Area, or Bird Hills.

Planning to Plant Trees

AARC Plans to Plant Trees to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat

It may be hard to imagine a bright sunny day in spring where AARC’s Beit Sefer students will frolic in a green meadow, picking out spots to plant new trees. But worry not! Under the guidance of Beit Sefer director, Clare Kinberg, students and their parents are making plans to do just that!

Entrance to our planting site, County Farm Park

Plans are in the works to plant fruit trees in County Farm Park’s Permaculture garden. Stay tuned for more info about our very exciting planting day!

Tu B’Shvat, or the New Year of the Trees, reminds us that in these dark days of winter, our trees are resting a slumber necessary to foster new growth. Tu B’Shvat is often celebrated as an ecological conservation day in which Jews around the world plant trees in honor of the holiday. We will remember this moment with gratitude in the spring when we are reveling in our advanced planning to enjoy this special tree planting activity.

An example of a Sugar Maple tree available through the Washtenaw Conservation District

Beit Sefer will be planting some fruit trees. If you are inspired by this and would like to order your own native trees or shrubs visit Washtenaw Conservation Districtto order for your home.

New Communications and Event Coordinator for AARC

Welcome Gillian Jackson
Gillian, Wade, Alex, and Wesley Jackson

We are very excited to welcome Gillian Jackson as AARC’s new Event and Communications Coordinator. Gillian will relieve Clare of her event planning duties, facilitating our congregation’s holidays, Shabbat services, and special events. She will also take over the weekly blog, Tuesday Telegraph, and Thursday Mailer. There are lots of small things Clare has picked up to support our congregation over the years and Gillian will be doing her best to do these things as well. You can read about Gillian in her new member blog post from last year.

Clare will still serve as the director of our Beit Sefer, religious school. She will also continue to attend and support our congregation as a cherished member. She is very excited to dive into her new role as editor of the Washtenaw Jewish News.

We thank you in advance for your patience as Gillian learns the ropes and invite your feedback and communication with her as she learns. You may contact her at AARCGillian@gmail.com.