Trailblazing Reconstructionist Deborah Waxman Relishes Challenges of Judaism

Lesbian Is First Woman To Lead Denomination

By Anne Cohen

Published October 09, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Reconstructionist Judaism has a new leader. For the first time, she is a woman — and a lesbian.

Deborah Waxman
courtesy of rrc
Deborah Waxman

In fact, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, who will take the reins of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the newly merged seminary and congregational apparatus of the Reconstructionist movement, is the first woman to ever head a Jewish congregational organization. She is also the first gay rabbi to take on such a senior leadership position.

“It has been energizing to know that I will not be marginalized or disqualified from serving the Jewish people,” Waxman, 46, wrote in an email to the Forward. “I deeply appreciate—and have richly benefited from—the Reconstructionist movement’s vanguard work on inclusion, and hope to continue it as president.”

The future of the Reconstructionist movement, the smallest of the major strands of American Judaism with about 100 congregations, has been uncertain since Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, Waxman’s predecessor, announced he was stepping down as head of RRC in February.

In her previous position as vice-president for governance for RRC, Waxman played a key role in the successful integration of the rabbinical college and the congregational union, and led in drafting the combined organization’s first strategic plan. Having been at the center of that transformation, Waxman believes the RRC is well-equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.

“This is a volatile and unprecedented landscape,” she said. A graduate of RRC herself, where she was ordained in 1999, Waxman stressed the importance of providing “immersive learning experiences,” and “meaningful substantial internships” in the training of rabbinical students.

Waxman hopes to build more connections between the seminary and the larger movement and the wider Jewish community.

“[Most] important is reaching out to people who are active in the field, listening closely to what they have to say and what they need and collaborating with them to respond to that current moment,” she added.

Waxman, who was voted in by RRC’s board on October 6, will take over RRC on January 1. She went to college at Columbia University, a M.A. from RRC and a Ph.D. in American Jewish History from Temple University. She also served as a High Holiday rabbi at Congregation Bet Havarim in Syracuse, N.Y., for 11 years.

She lives in suburban Philadelphia with her partner, Christina Ager.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.