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A New First

Last year we wrote about Alyssa Stanton, a rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Yesterday, Sue Fishkoff of the JTA profiled Stanton since she will soon be ordained as the first African-American female rabbi.

Stanton will be leading from the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., a conservative synagogue “affiliated with the Reform movement.” This is notable because it means she will also be the first African-American rabbi of a predominantly white congregation.

Stanton is also a Jew-by-choice, adding another level of diversity to an already inspiring member of the Jewish community. Diane Tobin, associate director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco (which studies racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community), noted:

There are so many who do not identify with the mainstream Jewish community. As more people like Rabbi Stanton come along as role models, others will see themselves better reflected in the community.

In so many ways Stanton challenges the notion of what Jews “look like” and shows us how rich the community can be if we are open and welcoming to all who approach. She chose a Jewish path and she is now on the verge of becoming a rabbi. Having her as a part of the community demonstrates how important it is to embrace everyone who is touched by Judaism.

Coincidentally, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa who was ordained last year at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, is currently on a speaking tour in the United States. Leader of the Abayudaya (the Jews of Uganda), he too serves as an example of just how diverse a people we are and how our capacity for inclusion – no matter the person’s background – is what will determine the future of the Jewish community.



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