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Rabbi Recounts Seminary Profs’ Sexist Remarks

On the heels of a Forward survey revealing that fewer than one in six Jewish communal organizations are run by women, and that those women who do occupy top jobs earn less than their male counterparts comes an essay by Rabbi Rebecca W. Sibru about her personal experience with sexism during rabbinical school and in Jewish workplaces. Sibru, who attended the Jewish Theological Seminary during the 1990s, recounts the following decidedly inappropriate remarks from her professors:

One professor told me, “More important than anything you learn in school will be to get married and have babies.” Another, asked how long an assignment should be, replied, “Like a woman’s skirt: Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.”

She writes that during rabbinical school, communal leaders urged her to forgo ordination in favor of a degree in education. After all, she was told, teaching Hebrew school or at a Jewish day school is “what you will wind up doing once you have children anyway.”

Sexism followed her to the workforce, she writes — noting that the power structure at the Jewish communal organization where she worked for eight years after rabbinical school had males in the top, high-paid jobs, with women filling nearly every other position.

When I was ready for a new challenge and began looking for a new job two years ago, I again seriously considered leaving the Jewish communal professional world. Where was my growth potential? I entered the rabbinate because I wanted to be a leader in the Jewish world, but it seemed that my opportunities were slim. As a rabbi, I was directed to look (again) at Jewish education positions, not management positions. But this was not my career goal.

Sibru, now happily installed as the director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, goes on to make a powerful argument — although one that provides no specific action steps — for a new communal order with “Jewish leaders who are female, gay, black and Asian.”

What are your thoughts on what can be done to make Jewish organizational leadership more reflective of the diversity within the community?

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