This year for the High Holidays, female faces filled my screen
My late father, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, would often tell the story of a Hasidic rabbi, the Kotzker Rebbe, who wanted to give the Almighty a blessing. Instead of constantly asking for blessings, this rebbe felt it was time to give God some comfort, too.
But what blessing could a human possibly offer the divine? Certainly God has all the wealth, power, health, strength and wisdom God needs. The rebbe was at a loss, until he realized, yes, there is something that God cannot create nor will into being: May you have naches from your children, he wished the Almighty, hoping God could get some satisfaction and pride, pleasure and sustenance from the so-called Children of Israel.
When my father told that story, I always wondered: was he directing this hope at me and my siblings? How could we be a source of naches? We tried our best, and I am pretty sure that my father is somewhere kvelling and shepping naches from the adult grandchildren he never got to know.
It took me years to understand the profound nature of this story, as children can be quite challenging to their parents, even as they remain a source of pride.
We hope our legacy lives on, we pray that the world we tried so hard to fix and to heal, will continue to be renewed through our actual children, or by the next generation.
During the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur just past, I found myself “shul surfing,” like many liberal Jews around the world. And I was dazzled. Particularly from an array of female rabbis, who have knocked me off my couch!
Leading the pack is Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, who stood with such dignity and authority at the memorial services last week for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am not sure what I was crying about more: the loss of R.B.G. or the astonishing rise of women as rabbis, sources of wisdom and comfort standing tall and calm in the hallowed halls of American democracy.
I began my journey as an active Jewish feminist 50 years ago this summer. We did not know the way, but we wanted a way out of the patriarchal traditions we had grown up. We wanted our voices heard from the bimah leading prayer and preaching, our intelligence valued at the beit midrash, our visions heard at institutional tables, and more and more.
All I got that summer of 1970 at my Jewish summer camp was a moment to lead havdalah. That was the great compromise made. We would have to wait with our other demands.
But 50 years later, my generation can happily step aside and take real pride in our “children.” These female rabbis and others now leading synagogues and institutions were our campers, students, mentees, interns now leaders of their synagogues and institutions. I follow them on Facebook, I tune in on Zoom for their tefillah and classes.
And I am kvelling, I am shepping naches, I am weeping with the joy that a new generation has arisen with a sense of certainty, self-assurance, joy and humor, preaching their Torah, singing their new songs, creating new rituals that transform and give hope. These are the leaders we need to lead us during these unprecedented times.
Women who juggle children and the demands of the pulpit; women who are using the lessons of feminism and Judaism to invent and reinvent, comfort the weary and push on with the energized.
We are gladly saying farewell to 5780. The Jewish year 5781 is already feeling a bit different. Yes, many of our male colleagues were outstanding, too, and yet, let’s all take a moment to savor the fact that they now have outstanding colleagues whose voices have finally emerged as the prophetic vision for our time.
My daughter, Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered, is one of these many female leaders — the 11th generation rabbi in my father’s family, she is now at Niggun HaLev, a non-denominational congregation in Israel’s Galilee region.
Naches from our daughters fuels my hope for our Jewish future in the deepest way this year.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman was the first woman ordained in Israel by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, where she currently serves as Dean.