(This post has also been posted on the ReconRabbi.net blog)

This morning at the RRA convention we had real treat. Sandy Sasso and Sally Priesand spoke about their experiences in the early days as they began their journeys as the first women rabbis in North America. Gary Zola, director of the American Jewish Archives, capped off the session with a wonderful presentation, including historical documents and film/audio clips. It was good encouragement to us, as pioneering rabbis in a time of great historical significance, to keep our “stuff” and pass it along to the archives for the historical record.

Much I enjoyed Gary’s presentation, and felt inspired by it, I must admit that the session was touching because of Sandy and Sally’s reflections. While many of the women in the room have had funny, strange and disconcerting experiences as people have reacted to us as rabbis, Sandy and Sally have really endured much of the strangest and worst of it. Their experiences put my own personal narrative in perspective.

More than anything I was struck by the courage of these pioneering women, and the significance of their contribution to the Jewish people, to all of us and to me in particular. Since I was 14 I idolized Sally — as a teenager growing up as an active member of the Reform movement, it was Sally’s boundary- crossing that first inspired me to pursue a career, indeed a calling, in the rabbinate. I especially enjoy the opportunity now to be at Sally’s feet, learning from her, and getting to know her as a person. We who were among the first, have been through a lot — it has not been easy, but it has been immensely worthwhile to serve the Jewish people as rabbis. Given our passion and our collegial supports, we have pushed forward in breaking down more and more boundaries, and reshaping our Jewish world. We don’t often have time or context for self reflection about what we have done — Sally’s presence, and her stories of her full career in the rabbinate, served as a meaningful opportunity to examine our own journeys.

Having been a fan of Sally’s at a distance, I have different a connection to Sandy. Much as I have often spoken about Sandy’s role as the first Reconstructionist woman rabbi, and the second woman rabbi in North America, I have had the privilege for many years to call Sandy my friend. Today, as I listened to Sandy talk about her decision to become a rabbi, to study at RRC, and to serve our movement, I was reminded how very lucky we are that Sandy paved the way for us. And how blessed I feel to count Sandy as a colleague. Sandy’s many gifts of wisdom,  graciousness, and leadership are equaled by her courage. In her humility, Sandy won’t dwell on this. And, while I can identify with Sandy’s assertion that she just pursued her dreams without always realizing the weight and significance of her actions, I still hold great admiration for the fact that she has been such a gifted teacher and leader through all of it.

Sally, you continue to inspire me and teach me, and I am forever indebted to you. Sandy, you make me so proud to be a Reconstructionist rabbi and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to follow in your footsteps. What a blessing you are to all of us. Thank you!!