Also Overlooked:
A Call to Accountability

Screen capture: Hazon.org

By Karen Erlichman, DMin, LCSW and Rabbi Caryn Aviv, PhD

Rabbi Adina Allen, Sylvia Boorstein, Rabbi Rachel Cowan z’l, Koach Baruch Frazier, Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer, Rabbi Myriam Klotz, Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla, Rabbi Benay Lappe, Yavilah McCoy, Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Rabbi Sara Luria, Rabbi Chaviva Ner-David, Maggid Jhos Singer,  Rabbi Julia Watts-Belser, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg …

We lift up the names of these Jewish women, queer people, people of color and disabled folks, along with so many others, who serve as spiritual teachers, guides and leaders, and have paved the way for the field of contemporary Jewish spiritual practice to flourish.  

Why name these creative visionaries and doers? Because even when wonderful, thoughtful, kind, and deeply conscious men get together to write a piece about contemporary Jewish spiritual practice, the contributions of women and people from marginalized groups go unacknowledged and are rendered invisible. Because generations of Jewish women, queer people, people of color and disabled people have been ignored, erased and forgotten too many times. 

And yet, this week 3 seasoned cisgender, white heterosexual male rabbis wrote a blog post entitled “The Most Overlooked Transformation of the Crisis.” The authors, commenting on the changes wrought by Covid-19, wrote of the upsurge in participation in online Jewish spirituality programs, and a growing urgent request for Jewish meditation teachers and spiritual guides. However, not a single woman, or person from a marginalized group was named as a source of inspiration in building this growing field.  

We think the increased demand for spiritual practice is a wonderful, if unanticipated, outcome of the global health crisis facing all of us. We concur with the authors’ invitation to lean more deeply into spiritual practice and Jewish wisdom during this time. However, we are dismayed and disappointed that the authors failed to include more diverse voices, representative of gender, race, disability and sexual orientation, in their discussion.

As queer Jewish women who have worked in the Jewish community for decades, we have encountered numerous national and global emergencies in which women, LGBTQ+ people and disabled people have reclaimed traditional Jewish spiritual practices and created new ones. We have also observed and participated in creating our own rituals to connect more deeply to the sacred as a source of strength, creativity and resilience. 

We hope and pray that our allies will take this to heart and consider diverse voices when analyzing the changes and opportunities in a given field, and that they will publicly acknowledge these oversights and choose different next time. We hope and pray that when we emerge from this crisis, our relationships to ourselves, one another, and our society at large, will be transformed – that we will strive to be kinder, more equitable, and more just. One small step towards this vision is to acknowledge the glorious breadth and diversity of our community.  Let’s honor that as part of our spiritual justice practice.

Karen Lee Erlichman, D.Min, LCSW provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, supervision and mentoring in San Francisco. Her writing has been published in numerous journals, blogs and anthologies, including Feminist Studies in Religion, Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, ritualwell, Tikkun, and in the interfaith anthology Spiritual Guidance Across Religions. 

Rabbi Caryn Aviv, PhD serves on the rabbinic team at Judaism Your Way in Denver, CO, where she leads the Open Tent Be Mitzvah Program.