Rabbi Rebecca L. Dubowe '93
Moses Montefiore Congregation, Bloomington, IL
Please tell us about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC-JIR.
My Jewish identity was granted to me on the day I was born. My house was always filled with family and friends celebrating Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Jewish education was essential as my parents sent me to a Jewish Day school for several years and I studied the Hebrew language at my local secular high school. When I was 17 years old, I went to Israel for the first time along with my brother to work on my cousin’s kibbutz for six weeks. As Judaism had always been deeply ingrained in my heart and soul, I eventually completed a BA in Jewish Studies at the American Jewish University, formerly known as the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. At that time, it became quite clear that I wanted to become a “professional” Jew, which led me to consider the rabbinate and apply to HUC-JIR. At first, HUC-JIR was apprehensive about accepting me because I would become their first Deaf student at the Los Angeles campus. Thankfully, they took a leap of faith and accepted my request to become a rabbi.
How has HUC-JIR impacted your career?
HUC-JIR has greatly impacted my career as a rabbi. HUC-JIR gave me the tools to share my love of Judaism with others. To study, learn, and inspire others to embrace their own Judaism is essential to my rabbinate. HUC-JIR provided a strong foundation for me to succeed as a rabbi.
Please talk about your work and experience in the Jewish Deaf community.
As the only ordained Reform Deaf rabbi in the world, my role is quite unique. There are many Deaf Jewish people who did not receive a Jewish education because they had no access. I have been blessed to work with many Deaf couples and officiate at their weddings, funerals, and b’nai mitzvot while serving my own hearing congregation. Communication is essential. There is a difference between having an interpreter and someone like me who can communicate directly in American Sign Language. Everyone wants to be able to sit, talk, and connect with their rabbi and that is what I have done throughout the years for the Deaf Jewish Community. This past year, I teamed up with the URJ and initiated the first Introduction to Judaism, all taught in ASL. I am now teaching the second cohort of this program. You can imagine how many doors have opened for this wonderful opportunity—allowing complete communication access for Deaf adults throughout the country who get to connect and learn about Judaism with others.
Please tell us about your work and experience with Not In Our Town and the McLean County Interfaith Alliance.
When I first arrived in Bloomington Normal as the only rabbi in the town, I knew it was important for me to establish relationships with the greater community. I immediately connected with NIOT because it is a grassroots anti-discrimination organization. Their mission is to eliminate hate, address bullying, and create a safe, inclusive community, which is a fundamental teaching of Tikkun Olam. I am one of the co-founders of the McLean County Interfaith Alliance, which is a part of NIOT. We have participated in many vigils—strengthening interfaith relationships and identifying the most important common goal, which is to embrace our differences and be unified as one community.
This year is the 50th anniversary of women in the rabbinate. What does this anniversary mean to you?
I am in awe. I am grateful to be surrounded by such incredible teachers and rabbis who identify as women. These rabbis are my sisters and I am super proud to be a part of this special group.
This month is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. What does this mean to you?
This important awareness about Disabilities within the Jewish community or the community at large should be happening every day, every week, and every month. This applies to all other important causes that are assigned a specific month. People often forget that 20% of the general population are either Deaf or Hard of Hearing. The Jewish community has accomplished great strides in various ways and yet there is still much more that needs to be done. My personal definition of myself is that I am one with different abilities. My hope and vision is that we continue to discover and learn what we as members of the Disability community have to offer as valuable partners for the greater Jewish community. This explains why we must continue to host these annual programs related to JDAIM.
How would you describe HUC-JIR in one word?
Legacy (I’m a super proud parent of a HUC-JIR M.A.J.E. graduate!).
What do you like to do in your free time?
Spend quality time with my two adult daughters, Rachel and Arielle. Take long walks exploring the Midwest Prairie with my husband Michael and our dog, Moe. I love to do yoga, cook, and travel. My newest fun hobby is playing pickleball with Michael.