Rabbi Alona Lisitsa, Ph.D. '04
Faculty Member, Year-In-Israel Program and Israeli Rabbinical Program
Please tell me about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC-JIR.
I was born in Kiev when it was the Soviet Union, and Judaism was a nationality. My family raised me with a very strong Jewish identity which was not necessarily religious. I hear many people talking about the moment they discovered being Jewish or an experience that exposed them as Jewish. I don’t have such a memory because for me, being Jewish was like having green eyes. It always was there, because being Jewish meant belonging to something bigger than myself — a very important, talented people with traditions, religion, and texts, but I didn’t know much about it because it was prohibited. We started studying Hebrew when the Soviet Union collapsed and Jews from around the world started coming. Eventually we made aliyah and I was able to fill in the gaps of my Jewish identity.
In Israel I’ve worked with the Masorti Conservative movement and with the Reform movement. I’m a religious person in that I have a connection with the divine, but I need this relationship to be practiced. I had to experience the movements and the different forms of being Jewish before I was able to decide where my heart belongs.
I learned about HUC-JIR while I was working with the Reform movement. When I understood that I wanted to be a rabbi, it took me some time to determine where I belong, where my heart lies. I feel blessed every day that I decided to attend HUC-JIR. I had many wonderful years of learning and Yeshiva study, and it became my spiritual home.
This month is women’s history month. Please tell me about how you have made history in Israel.
I was the first female Reform rabbi to sit in the local religious council, due to IRAC’s wonderful legal work. I live in the Mevaseret Zion and for my town it was a great step as both a female rabbi and a Reform rabbi. It was not only the first time a Reform movement representative was elected, but it was the first time that the council actually met regularly. In previous situations when somebody from the Reform movement was elected, the council didn’t meet in order to ostracize them. So in my case, the fact that we were sitting around the table was a big change.
Please tell me about Dabri Torah and how it celebrates women’s voices.
Dabri Torah was inspired by Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and in a way it shares the structure. It’s a book that includes Torah, female interpretations of Torah, and different kinds of poetry. I wanted this book to be a collection of female voices. I see the feminism in this and the making of history, because I didn’t want only scholars to contribute. Any woman who claims Torah can take it and say something intelligent. You don’t have to be a professor or a Ph.D., and you do not need to be religious. All Jewish women are entitled to Torah.
There are many well known contributors, but also many lesser known voices from all types of religiosity, origins, and groups: nonreligious, Masorti, Reform, Orthodox, traditional, Ethiopian women, Russian-speaking women, American English-speaking women, young women, elder women, famous, less-known, famous poets, unknown poets, and more. I’ve asked them to write, to interpret Torah, not necessarily about women and not necessarily women’s issues. I believe women have more to say than just about female issues. So it’s not feminine interpretation, it’s not women’s interpretation, it’s interpretation by women. Women can say wise things on many different topics, not necessarily just female topics or issues connected to women.
This book is the first of its kind because it contains the Torah and it goes through the whole Torah from Bereshit to Haazinu, from the start to the end. It’s also the first to contain so much poetry. In the book there are two kinds of poetry: poetry that explicitly talks with the Torah portion and some that creates an implicit conversation. I didn’t include the Torah verses that the poetry is related to, so it is open-ended, and you can decide for yourself to which verse this poetry refers to. This gives a reader more options and possibilities for the interpretations.
How would you describe HUC-JIR in one word?
Beautiful. It’s very special to be on campus at every time of day. It’s very beautiful at night. It’s very beautiful in the morning when the sun rises and you see the rays of sun reflected in the white stone. It’s a beautiful place. It’s an aesthetically beautiful and pleasant place to be and study. I love people here and feel at home.
What do you enjoy in your free time?
I like reading and traveling with my family. But most of all, I love to study Talmud. That’s what I do if you leave me alone and give me some free time.