Rabbi Mary L. Zamore '97
Executive Director, Women's Rabbinic Network
Please describe your journey to HUC-JIR and the rabbinate.
I grew up in Garden City, NY, in a small Jewish community. My parents were very involved in the congregation as lay leaders, and in fact, I come from a long line of active synagogue and Jewish community volunteers. I was almost a teen drop-out, but right before college my Jewish spark was reignited. Soon after, I decided I wanted to be a rabbi. I had the chance to be a leader in Jewish life on campus where I was exposed to a variety of Jewish identities alongside my own Reform Jewish identity.
What were some formative experiences during as a female rabbinical student of the Class of 1997?
I am grateful for my HUC-JIR education, especially the teachers who encouraged me to be everything I could be. In the 1990’s there were few female professors and we perceived different biases as we trained to be Jewish leaders. It was clear to me that even in the Reform Movement – a progressive, equalitarian expression of Judaism, we had a lot of work to do to ensure women, as well as others, were truly equal.
Please describe the rewards and challenges of being a pulpit rabbi for 18 years.
I loved the 18 years I served as a congregational rabbi. It was a profound honor to be part of people’s lives, to see them at the heights and depths of life, to interact with people without the usual barriers, to grapple with the meaning of life together. The skills I learned as a pulpit rabbi support my work every day. I worked with talented Jewish professional partners and dedicated lay leaders: settling refugees, housing the homeless, supporting my community during 9/11, growing vibrant youth groups, teaching adult learners, and exploring prayer, ritual, and theology, to name a few.
Please tell us about your abiding commitment to the Women’s Rabbinic Network’s mission, from your participation as a student and as co-president, to your current professional role, in advancing its goals?
When I was at HUC-JIR, I went to a WRN event and I deeply appreciated the support, the honest talk about gender and bias, and the message that as a rabbi I did not need to be limited by my identity or by other people’s perceptions of my identity. I became an active member, served as co-president in 2007-9, and seven years ago was hired as WRN’s Executive Director. The longer I have been a rabbi, the more relevant WRN’s work has become to me. I am proud that WRN uses the experience of our rabbis to advocate for changes that better all people throughout the Jewish world.
Please describe your work as co-leader of the Reform Pay Equity Initiative, addressing the wage gap within the Reform Movement.
When I began as the Women’s Rabbinic Network’s executive director, the Board and I agreed that the time was ripe for more vocal, outward facing advocacy work. The gender-based wage gap in the Reform Movement was picked as a focus since there was solid data to prove that the gap existed. Women of Reform Judaism, led by Rabbi Marla Feldman, joined forces with WRN to organize and lead the Reform Pay Equity Initiative. Our other Reform Movement partners readily joined together to educate our community and to create interventions to narrow the gap. It is slow but steady work.
As founder of the Safe Clergy: Employees and Employers Program, please describe the mission and impact of this initiative.
After the #MeToo Movement unfurled four years ago, WRN was one of the few organizations with experience addressing Judaism through the gender lens, with over 40 years of experience as women in a formerly all-male profession. I decided to create safe, respectful community (anti-bullying and -harassment) trainings adapted to the special needs of Jewish seminaries in order to seed change throughout the Jewish community. Seminaries have the unique privilege of training our future leaders of all gender identities; they need to provide their students and employees with the vocabulary and policies that support safety. Imprinting safety and respect by modeling best practices is vital to bring about change in the wider Jewish community.
As editor of The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic and the award-winning The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic, please describe your purpose in focusing on these issues through a Jewish lens.
My anthologies reflect the core of my rabbinate, my belief that people can have a positive impact on the world. I hope that these books challenge readers to think deeply about their daily actions and to realize that Judaism offers us the tools – rituals, spirituality, and ethics – for lives of meaning.
Please share a Jewish text that has inspired your unique rabbinical path.
It is difficult to pick among so many gems! However, I love Deuteronomy 30:11-14. These verses teach that God’s teachings are immediate and accessible. The text says, “Surely, this command which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach….No, it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”