According to Hebrew Union College, there are almost 400,000 Jewish African Americans as part of the total of 6,000,000 Jewish people in the US. One of them, Alysa Stanton, has just been ordained as the first African American woman rabbi in the whole world. This is a very big moment.
As I wandered through the blogosphere, trying to put my finger to the pulse on the reaction to this huge event, I was surprised by how underplayed it seemed to be. Has the Obama "first" made us casual when a similar "first" happens? The comments I did find were overwhelmingly positive, however. I am ready to break out the champagne here, just from my own personal happiness.
Imagine it -- the first African American woman who is ordained a rabbi. Whew. The first.
Alysa, now 45, the divorced mother of a 14 year old daughter, grew up as a Pentacostal Christian in a Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland. She converted to Reform Judaism over 20 years ago.
Cocoa Fly writes about the difficulties that Rabbi Stanton has encountered thus far and says:
Alysa Stanton reportedly is looking forward to the new phase in her life but she describes the journey up until this point as a "lonely journey." I could only imagine what she has endured. God bless her for staying strong and not allowing anyone or any -isms stop her from fulfilling her calling. The sista is an inspiration and an example of the diversity within the black community.
Quotes from her show a grounded, bright, and determined woman. Her goals seem focused and center on the tasks at hand. She is a woman who has had some struggle in her life. She speaks from that place of having moved beyond much of it, and learned from the rest of it.
The Cincinnati Enquirer quotes her as saying: "I don't think about it a lot," she says of her milestone. "It's daunting. I'm honored. I'm in awe. And I have a healthy dose of reverence."
The New York Times marks these quotes: “I’m just a little person trying to pay my bills and raise a daughter and help others on their spiritual path,” said Ms. Stanton, a single mother who adopted an infant girl 14 years ago. --- and --- As she prepared for her ordination, Ms. Stanton said she did not want to be reminded of the ceremony’s historic importance. “I feel awe and a healthy dose of fear about being the first,” she said. “I try to keep it simple. I am a Jew, and I will die a Jew."
In August she will move to Greenville, NC to serve Bayt Shalom, one of the few congregations in the US that is both Conservative and Reform. She will start out as part-time, but it s expected that will expand to full-time.
The Irving Havurahtells us that:
The irony of a black woman presiding over a white congregation in the deep south is not lost on Stanton.
"God has a sense of humor," she said.
CNN quoted this comment about Stanton's goals at Bayt Shalom, a small congregation of 60 families: ""My goals as a rabbi are to break down barriers, build bridges and provide hope. I look forward to being the spiritual leader of an inclusive sacred community that welcomes and engages all."
The CNN article goes on to say:
Before her rabbinical training, she studied social psychology, neuropsychology and interpersonal relationships at Lancaster University in England in 1983-84; received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 1988; earned a Master of Education degree in counseling and multiculturalism in 1992 from Colorado State University; and received a professional counselor license in 1998.
Stanton worked as a student rabbi, served as a chaplain, had clinical pastoral training and promoted interfaith dialogue at Reform communities in the United States. She studied at the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem and then at Cincinnati, Ohio.
This may be a joyous time for her and for her congregation. But being the first at anything carries its share of problems as well. Stanton speaks of cold shoulders or worse from here to Israel. She describes how her daughter was ill-treated and scorned in Israel. But she just kept nurturing her daughter, coming back, persisting, living into the dream. She speaks in almost every interview of her faith keeping her strong. The overall image is of a woman who has been steadfast in her faith.
Nia Online says, "Mazal Tov Rabbi Stanton! We wish you all the best!"
Merlene Davis who has spoken to Rabbi Stanton, said "The last time I talked with Alysa Stanton, she said she would have converted to Judaism and submitted to the rigors of becoming a rabbi even if she had been the 50,000th African-American woman to do so instead of the history-making first."
Jewlicious had this to say:
I think that her success stands not only as an example for all, but also as proof that in some ways, we’re really moving forward.
Dunking Rachael refers to Alysa Stanton as "A woman of Valor".
Jezebel quotes the Atlanta press:
One rabbi talked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the conversion process:
He asks every convert: "Why would you ever want to be Jewish? Don't you know how many people hate us?"...The black converts respond differently, he said. They look at him as if to say: "Welcome to my world."
Click here for a transcript of a 10 minute interview with Rabbi Stanton.
Things are changing in America. The ordination of Alysa Stanton is a massive change in the symbology of the American religious landscape. When we think "Rabbi" in America, it isn't going to be just a white man or maybe a white woman anymore. One powerful image that can come to mind now is that of Alysa Stanton. The waves of inclusion may be rippling outward. That is my hope, my dream, and I am sure yours as well.
As for me, I'm going to say a prayer for her and for her daughter's happiness -- and that they both have found "home". Care to join me?
What do you think of this news?
Mata H, CE for Religion and Spirituality blogs about all manner of things on her blog, Time's Fool
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