HUC-JIR's Rabbi Alona Lisitsa was selected by Tel Aviv University as an inspirational researcher in honor of International Women's Day on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Rabbi Lisitsa teaches Rabbinics and Liturgy in the Year-In-Israel Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, where she is also the Rabbinical Internship and Mentoring Coordinator in the Israeli Rabbinical Program.
Rabbi Lisitsa writes:
I am a Reform rabbi. It is certainly not obvious. When people hear that I am studying Talmud, they raise an eyebrow. In religious circles, there is a hidden message that true and meaningful learning can only take place in a traditional Yeshiva and be done by men. In the Beit Midrash, there is a custom that good students sit in the front benches, close to the rabbi, and less knowledgeable students sit at the back. I felt that while I was studying, I always sat in the back seat and thought that everyone else knew more than I. It took me a long time to say that I do know, without apologizing!
I grew up in the Soviet Union where Judaism was referred to as a nationality and not as a religion. When I came to Israel at the age of 20, I worked as an educator in informal education and then in a Conservative community; I took on certain roles and I was drawn to their activities. I may not be the one to change the lives of others, but I can certainly be of help to people in their significant moments of their life.
I was the first female Reform Rabbi in Israel to be appointed to a Religious Council, a kind of victory for democracy. I was the only woman and the only Reform representative on this forum and I sat together secular and Orthodox representatives. We did not agree on many things but we treated each other with mutual respect.
Today, there are more women studying Talmud than in the past, but it is still not in the same gender proportion. I teach many people who do not come from religious backgrounds; they make apologetic comments, like "tell me what is right." I let them know that these texts are for all of us, men and women, the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, all denominations. They are for all who aspire to open their eyes, to learn and to interpret these texts. No one owns them!