Rabbi Naamah Kelman '92

Dean, Taube Family Campus, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem

Rabbi Naamah Kelman

When I arrived in Israel in 1976, there were no Hebrew words for Jewish feminism, egalitarianism, or pluralism, and there were no women rabbis. I arrived with all the “can do” spirit of America. Riding the wave of Civil Rights and feminism, I came to Israel with the hope and the prayer to find a community. It quickly became clear that I would have to create my own community.

That is exactly what I have been doing for the last 45 years! I founded the first Egalitarian Minyan. I found my way to Hebrew Union College, ready to accept women into their new and fledgling Israel Rabbinical Program. At first, in 1981, Rabbi Richard Hirsch of WUPJ tried to dissuade me because Reform had barely gained a foothold, but then he reflected: “You would be the Jackie Robinson of Reform Rabbis in Israel.” Did he know that my grandfather Rabbi Felix Levy gave up baseball to become a rabbi in around 1907? I enrolled in HUC-JIR’s Israel Rabbinical Program in 1986, and was ordained in 1992. For my 25th anniversary, I presided as Dean at my daughter Rabbi Leora Ezrachi Vered’s ordination. Over 60 women have transformed the Israeli rabbinate and Israeli society through ritual, liturgy, and scholarship; built new communities; and created new Hebrew words for egalitarianism, pluralism, inclusivity, and woman rabbi. It has been an extraordinary journey, growing with each new Israeli rabbi. We deploy to transform Israeli society!