Seekers of Meaning 10/6/2023: Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, co-author of “The First Fifty Years: A Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis”

On this week’s episode of the Seekers of Meaning TV Show and Podcast, Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell discusses the newly released book, The First Fifty Years: A Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis, which she co-edited.

The ordination of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand in 1972 was a watershed moment in Jewish history. In The First Fifty Years, contributors from across the Jewish and gender spectrums reflect on the meaning of this moment and the ensuing decades, both personally and for the Jewish community. In short pieces of new prose, authors–many of them pioneering rabbis–share stories, insights, analysis, and celebrations of women in the rabbinate. These are intertwined with a wealth of poetry that poignantly captures the spirit of this anniversary. The volume is a deep, heartfelt tribute to women rabbis and their indelible impact on all of us.

This collection (click image to purchase book) serves as a mile marker along the journey, a momentary stopping place for reflection and commemoration. While we experience the evolution of women in the rabbinate as inevitable, that doesn’t mean it was easy. These pages likewise acknowledge challenges and complexities of these fifty years, identifying some of the detours and roadblocks that still lie ahead… In a mere half century, rabbinic leadership effected a dramatic turning point in Jewish history, an acknowledgment that the voices that were silent or silenced, marginalized, unheard and unseen, are an essential part of the rich and variegated fabric of the Jewish story and must be included… Becoming the most beautifully diverse, inclusive, and thriving community of our highest aspirations, we all need to know what has led us here on the path to a healthy, equitable, and flourishing future.

–From the introduction by Rabbi Hara E. Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

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About the Guest

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell has spent her career working with individuals and congregations to build and sustain healthy, vibrant Jewish communities. The Founding Director of the American Jewish Congress Feminist Center in Los Angeles, Elwell served as the first Rabbinic Director of Ma’yan, the Jewish Women’s Project of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side in New York City before joining the staff of the Union for Reform Judaism, where she served for 18 years. She now serves as a Spiritual Director at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and also accompanies a wide range of individuals as they explore their spiritual paths.

Elwell is the editor of the award-winning Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Stories of Our Lives (2013), The Open Door Haggadah (2002), and served as editor of Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation (2001). She is co-editor, with Hara Person and Jessica Greenbaum, of The First 50 Years: A Jubilee in Prose and Poetry Honoring Women Rabbis (2023). 

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